A group of scientists from the University of Gothenburg
in Sweden recently found that adolescent fat may lead to heart failure in middle age.
The study was published just this morning in the European Heart Journal. It shows the relationship between the body mass index (BMI) in young men and their likelihood of being hospitalized with heart failure in the future. BMI is a height to weight ratio used to measure obesity.
Annika Rosengren, professor of medicine and co-author of the study, describes heart failure as a chronic condition where the pump function of the heart is compromised, due to any number of conditions.
“Teenage boys who are overweight or obese are at increased risk. Even within the normal range, there is risk,” she told Business Insider.
Participants were men from the Swedish Military Service Register and their average age was just under 18 years old at the beginning of the study. They were then followed for an average of 23 years.
The research team found that men with a BMI of 20 to 22.5 kg/m2had a hazard ratio higher than men with a BMI of 18.5 to 20 kg/m2. This risk shot up with an increasing BMI. Those in the range of 30 to 35 kg/m2and above had a significant rise in hazard ratio.
The risk of heart failure is seen at normal body weights, and those in the highest weight categories have a 10 times even greater risk. This spells trouble for young people in the current obesity epidemic.
Rosengren sees a lot of work to be done in the future.
“Increasing rates of obesity are a societal problem, because we have an ‘obesogenic’ environment in many parts of the world,” she said, pointing to motorised transport and access to cheap food as parts of the problem. “Having access to food and absence of heavy labour are inherently good things,” she went on. “However, we need to devise strategies not to accumulate excess body fat.”
Rosengren and her team calculated incidence rates strictly of heart failure, but they also included patients who suffered from congenital heart disease, coronary heart disease, and hypertension among other conditions. Fitness, strength, and IQ were taken into consideration when calculating risks.
Of the 1,610,437 men in the study, 79.6% were of normal weight (BMI 18.5 to 20 kg/m2), 10% were overweight (BMI 25 to 30 kg/m2), and 2.3% were obese (BMI over 35 kg/m2).
During follow-ups, 5,492 cases of heart failure were identified, with the average man being 46.6 years old at the time of failure. The researchers saw the lowest risk at 20 kg/m2, with a steep increase with increasing body weight. Of all the cases, 22.9% had no previous heart problems, like diabetes or hypertension.
Estimates of obesity in Europe are 4% in people less than 20 years old. However, the prevalence of moderate obesity (BMI 30 to 34.9 kg/m2) quadrupled from the early 1970s. The number of people considered obese has increased 10-fold, as well.
This study is important because it shows that heart failure risk started to increase at body weights that are, as the study says, “normal and considered desirable.” They found that the risk of heart failure increased 16% per one unit increase in BMI.
Rosengren notes that she is not a specialist in children’s health, but still sees room for improvement in adolescent weight management.
“There are many reasons for children to avoid becoming overweight or obese – prevention is better than cure,” she said. “Once established, obesity is difficult to reverse. Many parents are already well aware of the problem.”
Baby fat, or excess weight at a young age, has long been brushed off as a part of growing up. But it looks it can actually cause major problems later in life.
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