Weight gain in puberty linked to heart risk

More likely to develop heart failure
  • Deborah Condon

Boys who become overweight during puberty may have an increased risk of developing heart failure later in life, a new study suggests.

However, boys who are overweight as children, but then manage to lose weight during puberty, do not have an increased risk of the heart condition.

Heart failure is a potentially life-threatening condition which leads to the heart being unable to pump enough blood around the body. Symptoms include tiredness, shortness of breath, dizziness and swollen ankles.

Some 90,000 people in Ireland are currently affected, and 26 million people worldwide.

It is already known that weight gain in middle age can increase the risk of heart failure, and research has also suggested a link between the condition and weight gain in young adult men. However until now, it was unclear whether weight during childhood and puberty had any impact.

Swedish researchers decided to investigate this further. They looked at the health records of over 37,000 boys who were born between 1945 and 1961. These were followed up until the end of 2013.

The participants' body mass index (BMI) was checked at age eight, as well as during puberty.

The study found that boys who were a normal weight at the age of eight, but then became overweight during puberty, were three times more likely to be diagnosed with heart failure as adults, compared to boys who were not overweight during childhood or puberty.

However, those who were overweight in childhood, but were a normal weight during puberty, had no increased risk of developing heart failure in adulthood.

Meanwhile, the researchers also found that the risk of heart failure increased in line with increasing BMI in puberty. In other words, those who gained the most weight during puberty had the highest risk.

The team from the University of Gothenburg emphasised that these findings ‘do not suggest that everyone who is overweight during puberty will go on to develop heart failure in later life'.

However, they warned that ‘a sustained obesity epidemic could offset the current trend of declining cardiovascular death rates'.

"Our findings emphasise the importance of maintaining a healthy weight from an early age. Given that heart failure is on the rise in young adults, more action needs to be taken worldwide to curb the growing obesity epidemic," they concluded.

Some of the data was based on examinations carried out as part of Sweden's mandatory military conscription. As mandatory female military conscription was not in place at the time, the researchers were unable to retrieve young adult BMI data for women, so it was not possible to determine sex-based differences in the link between BMI changes during puberty and adult risk of heart failure.

Details of these findings were presented at the European Congress on Obesity 2018 (ECO) in Vienna, Austria.


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