Carotid artery intima-media thickness (CIMT) is a measure of atherosclerosis, or the fatty build-up within the arteries that can eventually choke the vessels, leading to a heart attack or stroke.
"Generally kids have much smaller CIMT than do adults, and this increases with age," Lavie explained. "In adults, CIMT has correlated with a risk of heart attack and stroke, so generally, it is well-recognized that having a thinner CIMT is preferable."
The average age of participants was 13, most were white, and about half were male. Fifty-seven percent had a body-mass index (BMI) above the 95th percentile for their age.
On average, participants' "vascular age," meaning the age at which this level of thickening would be normal, was three decades older than their chronological age.
Children who were obese and who had high triglyceride levels in the blood (triglycerides are a form of fat) were more likely to have advanced vascular age.
McNeal said it was worth noting that the study was a small one and lacked some statistical data, making her shy away from stating that the findings are conclusive.
In any case, researchers do need to explore whether losing weight and adopting healthier lifestyles could correct these problems. Other research indicates it could.
"The prevention of this starts prenatally, with educating mothers and fathers about the nutritional needs of raising an infant and a child," McNeal said. "Most young parents fail to understand the nutritional requirements of a child and fail to balance the caloric intake with energy expenditure. . . A study two years or so ago suggested that this generation of youth would be the first generation to not outlive their parents."
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