FAT four-year-olds are twice as likely to have high blood pressure by the age of six – raising their risk of heart attack and stroke, a study found.
Researchers say their findings highlight the importance of children adopting a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise from a young age.
They measured the blood pressure, body mass index and waist circumference of 1,796 youngsters at the age of four and again at six years.
Those who went from healthy weight to overweight were 2.49 times more likely to have high blood pressure than those who remained trim.
And those who were persistently overweight according to their BMI had a 2.54-times higher risk.
Children who were tubby at the start of the study but had slimmed down by the end did not have an increased risk of high blood pressure.
The findings applied to boys and girls, rich and poor, the Carlos III Health Institute in Madrid found.
The boffins warn efforts to improve youngsters’ health are hampered by the myth that being overweight as a child has no consequences.
Researcher Dr Iñaki Galán said: “Some paediatricians think the harms of overweight and obesity begin in adolescence but our study shows they are mistaken.
“We need to detect excess weight as soon as possible so the damaging impact on blood pressure can be reversed.
“There is a chain of risk, whereby overweight and obesity lead to high blood pressure, which heightens the chance of cardiovascular disease if allowed to track into adulthood.
“But the results show that children who return to a normal weight also regain a healthy blood pressure.”
He added: “The myth that excess weight in children has no consequences hampers the prevention and control of this health problem.
RISK OF HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE
“Parents need to be more physically active with young children and provide a healthy diet.
“Women should shed extra pounds before becoming pregnant, avoid gaining excess weight during pregnancy, and quit smoking, as these are all established risk factors for childhood obesity.”
Further analysis revealed kids with new or persistent fat around the stomach had a 2.81 and 3.42-times greater risk of high blood pressure, respectively.
Researchers say children with high blood pressure should be offered tests to rule out underlying issues and encouraged to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
Blood pressure lowering drugs may be prescribed if lifestyle changes do not help.
The World Health Organisation has described childhood obesity as one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century.
One in five kids in England is overweight or obese when they start primary school, rising to one in three by the time they leave, figures show.
The study findings are published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology.
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