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Kids with 45-year-old arteries

Risk of heart disease can be found in 10-year-olds

New research suggests that children as young as 10 who are obese or have high cholesterol show early warning signs of heart disease. Evidence was found in the children's necks: their arteries looked more like those of 45-year-olds. The study was presented this week in the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2008 in New Orleans.

"There's a saying that 'you're as old as your arteries,' meaning that the state of your arteries is more important than your actual age in the evolution of heart disease and stroke," said Geetha Raghuveer, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Medicine and cardiologist at Children's Mercy Hospital in a release. The vascular age of children was found to be about 30 years older than their actual age.

The study involved 70 children ages 10 to 16, with an average age of 13. Forty of the children were obese and 30 were not, but had genetically high cholesterol levels. Researchers used ultrasound to measure the thickness of the inner walls of the neck arteries that supply blood to the brain. Increasing carotid artery intima-media thickness (CIMT) indicates the fatty buildup of plaque within arteries feeding the heart muscle and the brain, which can lead to heart attack or stroke.

The research is more evidence that the process of artery disease can begin early in life, increasing the risk of premature heart disease in adulthood. The study's authors said that more research is needed to determine whether the arterial build-up will decrease if the children lose weight, exercise, or are treated for abnormal lipids.

"I'm optimistic that something can be done," Raghuveer said. "In children, the buildup in the vessels is not hardened and calcified. We can improve the vessel walls and blood flow in adults through treatment and I'm sure we can help children even more."

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