(HealthDay News) -- Obese children and those at risk for obesity show early signs of heart disease -- similar to that seen in obese adults, U.S. researchers say.
The study, by a team at Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, included 168 children ages 10 to 18. All of the children had undergone cardiac ultrasound to check on symptoms such as heart murmur, chest pain, acid reflux or high blood cholesterol. Of the children, 33 were obese, 20 were at risk for obesity, and 115 were normal weight.
The researchers used a new tissue Doppler imaging technique called "vector velocity imaging" that can track the movement of the heart's muscular wall.
"In the patients who are obese, the rate of motion of heart muscle changed," Dr. Angela Sharkey, an associate professor of pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine and a pediatric cardiologist at St. Louis Children's Hospital, said in a prepared statement. "As a child's BMIA (body mass index for age) increases, we see alterations in both the relaxation and contraction phase of the heartbeat. Many of these changes that have been seen in adults were assumed to be from long-standing obesity, but it may be that these changes start much earlier in life than we thought."
"Based on this study, these subtle markers can help us predict who could be at risk for heart disease and heart attacks," Sharkey said.
The findings were published in the winter issue of the Journal of Cardiometabolic Syndrome.
Vector velocity imaging could help doctors follow obese children to see if these changes in the heart progress and to determine if interventions -- such as dietary changes, increased exercise, and the use of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs -- have any effect, Sharkey said.
About 19 percent of American children ages 6 to 11 and 17 percent of those ages 12 to 19 are overweight, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Nemours Foundation has more about overweight and obese children.