Childhood obesity has become an epidemic in the United States. The University of California, San Diego School of Medicine has outlined the significance of the epidemic and the adverse health impact associated with obesity in a new study published in PLOS ONE.
The study found that high blood pressure and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) are two health problems significantly affecting obese children, placing them at risk for premature cardiovascular disease. NAFLD, (storage of fat droplets inside liver cells) is the most common cause of chronic liver disease in the United States and affects nearly 10 percent of all children.
The research participants consisted of 484 children with NAFLD between the ages of two and seventeen. Nearly 36 percent of the group had high blood pressure at baseline; 21 percent had persistent high blood pressure almost a year later. In comparison, high blood pressure was present in two to five percent of all children and 10 percent of obese children.
“As a result of our study, we recommend that blood pressure evaluation, control and monitoring should be included as an integral component of the clinical management of children with NAFLD, especially because this patient population is at greater risk for heart attacks and strokes,” said Jeffrey Schwimmer, MD, in the Department of Pediatrics at UC San Diego School of Medicine and principal investigator of the study. “Hypertension is a main cause of preventable death and disability in the United States in adults, but much of the origin occurs in childhood.”
“Along with being at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, we found that children with NAFLD who had high blood pressure were significantly more likely to have more fat in their liver than children without high blood pressure. This could lead to a more serious form of liver disease,” said Schwimmer.
“There are some reasons to believe that blood pressure control could be beneficial for NAFLD. Thus, we may be able to decrease the risk of premature cardiovascular disease in these children, and also help their liver,” said Schwimmer. “Parents and doctors need to be aware of the health risks of children who have NAFLD. The sooner high blood pressure is identified and treated in this patient population, the healthier they will be as they transition into adulthood.”
Jeffrey B. Schwimmer, Anne Zepeda, Kimberly P. Newton, Stavra A. Xanthakos, Cynthia Behling, Erin K. Hallinan, Michele Donithan, James Tonascia. Longitudinal Assessment of High Blood Pressure in Children with Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (11): e112569 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0112569