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Enlarged hearts found in obese kids: MRI scans reveal signs of cardiac disease in young children.

Obese children as young as 8 years old may experience worrisome changes to their hearts, according to data presented November 10.

In a small study involving 20 obese children, 40 percent had enlarged hearts, a sign that the organ is under strain. The study is one of the few to use MRI to get a close look at cardiac muscle, said Linyuan Jing of Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pa. Her team's data add to a number of studies suggesting that children who are overweight or obese could be setting themselves up for lifelong cardiac problems (SN Online: 5/21/12).

The prevalence of childhood obesity in the United States has leveled off in recent years, but is still high: Over a third of kids and adolescents are overweight or obese.

Youth may not protect the heart from obesity-related problems. The Bogalusa Heart Study found that some overweight preschool children had elevated cholesterol levels. After following the kids for an average of 28 years, researchers reported last year in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology that kids with a high body mass index and high blood pressure were more likely to have left ventricular hypertrophy (an unhealthy thickening of heart muscle) as adults.

Such data have raised concerns that heart enlargement begins in childhood. But it's been hard to get clear images of obese children's hearts, Jing said.

In the new study, Jing and colleagues evaluated MRIs of 20 obese kids ages 8 to 18 and compared them with 20 healthy-weight peers. The obese kids were more likely to have enlarged hearts: The mass of the left ventricle, the heart's most muscular pumping chamber, was 27 percent higher on average, and the heart muscle was 12 percent thicker, even after taking age into account.

"This adds to the data trail saying childhood obesity can have consequences right during childhood," said Sarah deFerranti, director of the preventive cardiology program at Boston Children's Hospital.

In adults, an enlarged heart is associated with premature death. In children, the significance is still under study. "We don't know if it's reversible," Jing said.

40 percent

Fraction of obese kids studied who had enlarged hearts

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Title Annotation:BODY & BRAIN
Author:Beil, Laura
Publication:Science News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 12, 2015
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