Background: Epidemiological studies suggest that obesity-induced atherosclerosis may start in childhood, but this process has never been demonstrated. We looked for arterial changes and investigated their relation to cardiovascular risk factors in obese children.
Methods: Non-invasive ultrasonographic measurements were made in 48 severely obese children and 27 controls to investigate arterial mechanics and endothelial function. Plasma lipid concentrations, indices of insulin resistance, and body composition were assessed in the obese children.
Findings: The obese children had significantly lower arterial compliance than the healthy controls (median 0.132 [0.022-0.273] vs 0.143 [0.112-0.237] mm(2).mm Hg; p=0.02) and lower distensibility (0.60 [0.10-1.00] vs 0.70 [0.50-1.10] mm Hg(-1).10(-2); p=0.0001). Conversely, the obese children had higher values than the controls for wall stress (3.36 [2.00-5.01] vs 2.65 [2.13-3.54] mm Hg.10(2); p=0.0001) and incremental elastic modulus (1.68 [0.72-10.8] vs 0.96 [0.64-1.47]; p=0.0001). Endothelium-dependent and independent function were also lower in the obese than in the control children. An android fat distribution was positively correlated with indices of insulin resistance and plasma triglyceride concentrations and was negatively correlated with plasma HDL-cholesterol concentration and arterial compliance. Endothelial dysfunction was correlated with low plasma apolipoprotein A-I and with insulin resistance indices.
Interpretation: Severe obesity in children is associated with arterial wall stiffness and endothelial dysfunction. Low plasma apolipoprotein A-I, insulin resistance, and android fat distribution may be the main risk factors for these arterial changes, which are of considerable concern as possible early events in the genesis of atheroma.