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Dunedin Study research linking childhood obesity with higher risks of heart disease later in life has worrying implications.
The University of Otago findings from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study tested the cardiovascular risk of participants, who have been part of the study since birth, at age 38.
The study found that being obese or overweight from as early as three years of age increased the chances participants would have a high cardiovascular risk later in life.
Lead author, Prof Michael Williams, said the results had worrying implications, given obesity rates among children were reportedly growing.
According to a recent New Zealand health survey, 11% of children were obese and a further 21% overweight.
''This means we are facing a real time-bomb in terms of the potentially enormous burden of ill-health in a substantial proportion of our population,'' Prof Williams said.
Rates of heart disease have been dropping in New Zealand leading to increasing life expectancy, but higher obesity rates meant this trend could come to an end or be reversed.
''These findings are important because determining an association early on may help provide further impetus for interventions to prevent overweight and obesity beginning in early childhood with the goal of improving long-term cardiovascular health.''
The studies tested for cardiovascular risk, by looking for disease of the inner lining of blood vessels (endothelial dysfunction).
At population level endothelial dysfunction had been proven to be linked to cardiovascular risk.
The study also showed endothelial dysfunction at age 38 was associated with poorer physical fitness and other measures of cardiovascular risk, such as lower levels of good cholesterol and markers of inflammation.