"Many of these kids will become hypertensive and the association of obesity with hypertension might be devastating," Dr. Giovanni de Simone from "Federico II" University Hospital School of Medicine, Naples, told Reuters Health. "This is only partially a medical problem, but a social and political problem."
The researcher and his colleagues in Italy and the USA examined heart dimensions and function in 460 adolescents from American Indian communities in Arizona, Oklahoma, North Dakota and South Dakota as part of the Strong Heart Study.
Of the 460 participants, 113 were overweight and 223 were obese. Also, 110 had high-normal blood pressure and 27 had high blood pressure. Ten were diagnosed with diabetes, the team reports in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
The size of the left ventricle, the main pumping chamber of the heart, was enlarged in the obese and overweight adolescents compared to the normal-weight adolescents, the findings indicate, and one third of the obese teenagers were classified as having an actual medical condition called left ventricular hypertrophy.
"Early intervention during childhood and adolescence to reduce the prevalence of obesity and prevent the transition from overweight to overt obesity might represent a crucial step," the investigators say, in order to avert the development of heart disease.
"Obesity has been recognized as an important risk factor that contributes to the development of many different disease states worldwide," write Dr. Stephan von Haehling from Imperial College School of Medicine, London, and colleagues in a related editorial.
"For young people with...established risk factors for future cardiovascular illness (like hypertension, hyperlipidemia or diabetes), it seems very likely that obesity confers a somewhat higher risk for death compared to people with normal weight," the editorialists conclude.