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Childhood Obesity Epidemic a Long-Term Challenge
Date:9/20/2007

er health hazards in adulthood. In fact, there's substantial evidence that obesity and related diseases, including diabetes and hypertension, can begin to exact damage during the teenage years.

In one landmark study, a group of researchers from across the United States analyzed post-mortem blood samples and evaluated atherosclerosis in coronary artery and aorta specimens from roughly 3,000 15- to 34-year-old men and women who died from causes such as accidents, homicide or suicide. One of the surprising results of the study, according to McGill, was that an elevated blood sugar -- as measured by levels of "glycohemoglobin" -- was associated in the late 20s and early 30s with about an 8-fold increase in advanced lesions in the coronary arteries. "It was a whopper of an effect," he said.

In another study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers documented a significant upward shift over the past 16 years in blood pressure levels of children and teens aged 8 to 18. Lead author Paul Muntner, an epidemiologist at Tulane University School of Medicine, and colleagues said the increase in blood pressure levels is partially due to the increased prevalence of overweight in the United States.

And British researchers recently reported that children who are overweight at age 11 continue to have weight problems through their teenage years. Rates of overweight and obesity were highest among girls and children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. The authors said the study highlights the need to target efforts to prevent obesity in the early years.

But even as more money and manpower are devoted to obesity prevention, McGill said it may take many years to erase the epidemic. And, he added, it will take action on many different fronts, from educating children and physicians to improving the health-care financing system to include more preventive medicine.

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