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Take It to Heart: New Study Shows Heart Problems in Obese Kids as Young as 8

A new study has found signs of heart disease in obese children as young as 8 years old.

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If your child is obese, the extra weight could be having more of an impact on his heart than you think.

According to a scary new study presented today at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association, obese children can develop potentially harmful signs of heart abnormalities as young as age 8, putting them at high risk for adult cardiac strain and disease later in life.

Researchers studied the MRIs of 40 children—20 who fell within the normal weight range for their age, and 20 who were considered obsese with a body mass index above 35—to see if obesity was affecting the function of the heart muscle.

Turns out, it was. Not only did the findings show that the obese children had 12 percent thicker muscle, which suggests that the heart is working harder to pump blood, but even more alarming: The obese children showed 27 percent thicker left ventricles, the chamber of the heart responsible for pumping blood to the body.

According to Linyuan Jing, the post-doctoral fellow from the Geisinger Health System who conducted the study, both of these factors are considered indicators of heart impairment. "It's surprising to see evidence of heart disease among 8-year-olds," she said, "because that implies that children younger than 8 could have signs of heart disease as well."

While Jing told Time she hopes the negative impact on the heart can be reversed, she says more research is needed to understand which factors of obesity are affecting the changes in the muscle. "Understanding the long-term ramifications will be critical as we deal with the impact of the pediatric obesity epidemic," she said, adding that she and her colleagues plan to to take a look at the way factors like blood pressure and diabetes affect the heart in a larger group of children.

Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and a mom. Check out her website holleeactmanbecker.com for more, and follow her on Twitter at @holleewoodworld.