Obese children are showing signs of heart disease that doctors only expect to see in middle-aged adults, according to doctors.
A study of overweight children found their blood vessels had stiffness typically seen in adults with cardiovascular disease.
It looked at 63 obese children, whose average age was 13, and compared them with 55 normal weight controls.
Lead author Dr Kevin Harris told the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress that it was as if the aging process had been accelerated in their aortas, reports the Daily Mail.
'We were surprised to find that these obese children already have stiff blood vessels,' Dr Harris said.
'Aortic stiffness is an early indicator of cardiovascular disease in obese children.'
The aorta is the largest artery in the human body, carrying oxygen-rich blood to all the other arteries. Increased stiffness is usually associated with aging and is a strong predictor of future cardiac problems and mortality in adults.
For the study, children had a number of tests, including blood tests and blood pressure and body mass index measurements.
They then underwent echocardiography, or ultrasound, of the heart and blood vessels.
These showed that arterial health was already abnormal in the obese children.
Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson Dr Beth Abramson said that seeing actual changes to the performance of the heart and blood vessels in obese children was extremely alarming.
'We know there is an association between unhealthy lifestyles and heart disease. Our kids are at risk,' she said.
'Poor nutrition and inactivity are threatening their health and well-being. We must rethink the lifestyle standards we have accepted as a society to protect the future health of our kids.'