Overweight children at risk of high blood pressure in teens

I’m afraid there isn’t really any way to soften this: children who are overweight are at risk of becoming unhealthy adults. A new study from Australia, highlighted in the BMJ, looked at obesity levels in a group of nearly 1200 children, followed from birth. They found that:

  • 14 year olds with lifelong high adiposity (fatness) scores had more than six times the risk of raised blood pressure than their normal weight peers
  • Children of average birthweight who gained fat quickly had an even higher risk of raised blood pressure and many had increased blood pressure by the age of three
  • Children in the top third of weight for height charts from birth had systolic blood pressures that were 4-9mm Hg higher at age 14 than children of average weight

These kinds of studies cannot demonstrate that one thing causes another, but rather show associations. The lead author of this study, Lawrie Beilin, noted that the increase in blood pressure was “quite substantial”, and that

“By following this group of children from birth to adolescence, we have shown that increasing fatness in the early years, particularly in the years from birth to 3 years of age, was associated with higher blood pressure and cardiovascular risks later in life”.

Efforts to tackle obesity come in many forms, of course, and one area where there is ongoing debate is food labelling. Back in March I looked a review from the U.S. exploring legislation on menu labelling. Now, two women across The Pond have succeeded in their court action against Ferrero, the maker of Nutella spread, claiming it misled them by portraying the chocolate spread as “an example of a tasty yet balanced breakfast”. This has prompted Julia Belluz, Associate Editor of the Medical Post and Science-ish blogger, to ask ‘Do nutrition labels affect health outcomes, and do we need a labelling revolution?’ Food labelling, it has been suggested, is far behind tobacco labelling in its level of sophistication. As the debate on tobacco packaging rages, this seems a timely moment to consider whether we could be doing better in the way we market food. Check out Julia’s blog ‘Nutritious Nutella? All you need to know about the pitfalls of food labels’ for more on the tricky issue of food labelling and the results of a study suggesting that countries with high access to information sources and specific information on food are actually less healthy. Now there’s food for thought.

Links:

BMJ News: Childhood obesity increases blood pressure in adolescence, study shows. BMJ 2012;344:e3065

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