Today's obese children, tomorrow's heart patients Studies show link, predict growing problem Thursday, December 06, 2007 Overweight children are at significantly greater risk of heart disease as young adults, heightening concern that the obesity epidemic is producing a generation that will be fatter and sicker than its parents, a study out today shows. Researchers who looked at more than 276,000 Danish children found those who were overweight at ages 7 through 13 were much more prone to heart disease between 25 and 71. According to lead author Jennifer Baker, a researcher with the Institute of Preventive Medicine in Copenhagen, this is the first study to convincingly demonstrate that excess weight in childhood is associated with heart disease in adulthood. The research appears today in the New England Journal of Medicine. "If the current childhood obesity trend is not reversed, our results suggest that current generations of children are facing a future that is burdened with heart disease," she wrote in an e-mail to The Star-Ledger. A second, U.S.-led study in the same journal issue used federal data to project teenage obesity will increase the rate of heart disease, already the United States' leading killer, by as much as 16 percent by 2035. That would lead to an additional 100,000 cases. That same study showed the death toll from obesity-related heart disease will rise a whopping 19 percent, with many deaths occurring between the ages of 35 and 50 -- when people are still working and raising families. "What we really see is a changing pattern in heart disease, where there is a shifting to a younger population," said lead U.S. study author Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, an assistant professor of medicine, epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California-San Francisco. "The implications of this are really a wake-up call to all of us." Today, about one in three American children and adolescents is overweight or obese, with a body-mass index in the 85th to 95th percentile for their age and sex, stated David Ludwig of Harvard Medical School in an editorial accompanying the journal studies. He said parents must "take responsibility for their children's welfare by providing high-quality food, limiting television viewing and modeling a healthful lifestyle." Ludwig's words were not lost on Barbara Egner, 39, of Woodbridge. She has enrolled her two children -- one is 17 and the other is nearly 10 -- in a pediatric weight-reduction program at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick. A single mother who is obese herself and now on disability, Egner said her family has adopted a new lifestyle that no longer includes fast food and high-fat snacks. "We all watch what each other eats," said Egner, who weighs about 300 pounds and has battled obesity for years, once weighing twice as much as she does now. "No more ice cream in the house, no more cookies." The Danish study used a registry that included virtually every schoolchild in Copenhagen born between 1930 and 1976. Baker and her colleagues analyzed the children's heights and weights and checked hospital records to determine which children were hospitalized for heart problems as adults. They found the risk of heart disease increased with any amount of excess weight in childhood. In the second study, Bibbins-Domingo and her colleagues used a computer-modeling system to predict what would happen to adolescents identified as overweight in 2000 by the time they turn 35. What they found is that 37 percent of boys and 44 percent of girls fell into the obese category. Doctors in New Jersey did not seem at all surprised by findings of the two studies, saying they have young patients suffering from chronic health conditions like Type 2 diabetes, which at one time was considered an adult disease. "It's a rare (obese) kid that doesn't have some other obesity-related health problem ranging from high cholesterol to hypertension to obstructive sleep apnea," said Barbara Snyder, medical director of the Pediatric Metabolism Center at Robert Wood Johnson, where Egner's children go. Joel Hardin, director of cardiology at Children's Hospital of New Jersey in Newark, called the latest studies "right on the money." "It has taken decades (for this problem) to build up, and it will take decades to reverse," he said.