Baby Fat is Not Harmless
When parents envision a healthy, happy child, many think of chubby little cherubs. "Baby fat" historically has been considered happy evidence that a kid has a functional, vigorous appetite and, in some cultures, proof that the family is prosperous. It's also been widely believed that plump gives way to lean as kids grow up -- that baby fat is temporary, like colic and soiled diapers.
Not so, multiple studies now show. Baby fat in kids presages obesity in adulthood, plus it brings with it a slew of health issues. Several studies just reported at a meeting of the American Heart Association (AHA) make clear the dangers of those extra childhood pounds. One of the studies, out of Children's Hospital in Kansas City, found that obese kids as young as 10 years old have arteries as clogged as those typical of 45-year olds. The study looked at 70 children, 40 of whom were obese.
Dr. David Haslan of the National Obesity Forum commented, "If these children have such a high vascular age at such a young real age, they are looking at losing decades off their life expectancy. It proves that we are facing an epidemic of cardiovascular disease around 10 to 15 years after the obesity epidemic."
Chief researcher, Dr Geetha Raghuveer, from the University of Missouri, adds, "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."
As if this isn't alarming enough, two companion studies also reported at the AHA meeting reveal even more bad news for rotund youngsters. The first, out of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, Australia, found that children carrying extra weight have a tendency to "abnormal enlargement of the left atrium, one of the chambers of the heart." This sort of abnormality presents heightened risk for heart disease, stroke and heart arrhythmia. The study involved 991 seemingly healthy children from ages five to 15, all of whom underwent ultrasounds.
The final study reported at the meeting found increased arterial stiffness in overweight children, as well as an impaired ability for the heart to rest between beats. Lead researcher, Dr.Walter Abhayaratna, of Australian National University, commented: "Even at this young age of 10, you can have children who have got arterial stiffness who are comparable to 30- and 40-year-olds."
Wow. Ten-year-old kids with 40-year-old bodies, just a nudge away from cardiovascular issues formerly associated with aging. It reminds me of the F. Scott Fitzgerald story, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," about a child who was born an old man, in his eighties, and who then ages backwards (now a major motion picture). The difference is that unlike Benjamin Button, the real-life kids in question who start life as "old people" will only continue to age -- unless they lose weight and clear out their arteries.
While experts agree that the childhood obesity epidemic needs to be corralled through sweeping changes in diet and lifestyle, many nevertheless hope for a pharmaceutical intervention. For instance, Dr. David Haslan, the aforementioned spokesman for the National Obesity Foundation, says, "It is very difficult to try to get rid of these fatty deposits. Some studies are showing that statins can make some headroom...."
Ah -- the statin solution rears its head again as the possible magic bullet. Dr. Haslan's comment comes on the heels of a new study finding that statins can radically reduce the incidence of heart attacks and strokes in people who carry a certain inflammation-related protein in the blood. That study concluded (I bet you're going to be surprised) that millions more people should start popping statins, just in case they have the protein. (Alright, so you're not surprised.) Apparently, the scientists chose to ignore the overwhelming weight of other research showing that statins do very little or nothing to intervene in cardiac events, and that they cause plenty of serious side effects. It seems that for some mysterious reason, the medical community has an inordinate interest in finding ever new applications for statins, so it's no surprise that giving them to overweight kids would come up for consideration.
But why wait until kids are fat and need such intervention? The first-line of defense is to feed kids less food and healthier food, get them to exercise more, and if they do put on the pounds, think about safer alternatives to help them clean out their arteries -- like going on a diet and supplementing with Omega-3 fatty acids, methylating nutrients such as SAMe and the B vitamins, and proteolytic enzymes.
Oh yes, and perhaps AARP should consider lowering its membership age to one year old to account for these millions of new Benjamin Buttons.