A study of more than 400 children found the early signs of severe heart damage in those who were obese.
The Romanian researchers, who presented their findings at the European Society of Cardiology congress in Barcelona, scanned the hearts of 455 children, aged from infancy to those in their teens.
They found that obese children had heart walls 25% thicker than those of a healthy weight. Having thick heart walls puts people at risk of abnormal heart rhythms, heart failure and cardiac arrest later in life, and is an early marker of heart disease.
Thick heart walls were also seen in 54 babies below the age of one, and 125 toddlers younger than three.
All the babies had been bottle-fed, which the experts said was linked to higher rates of obesity.
Children are categorised as overweight or obese using a body mass index (BMI) score.
This score is specific to age and gender, and uses a figure called a percentile to show how a child’s BMI compares with the BMI of other children. Romania, where the research was conducted, has the lowest obesity rates in Europe, with 9.4% of adults classed as obese.
Lead researcher Dr Delia Mercea, of Constantin Opris hospital in Baia Mare, said: “It’s a huge problem because obesity affects children and it’s possible that this could lead to heart failure in time.”
Mercea added that doctors should warn parents about their children’s diet. “Doctors should tell parents what kind of food to give to children - not fast food, not sweets, but proper food at home and natural food like fruit and vegetables.”
Professor Metin Avkiran, of the British Heart Foundation, said: “Children who are overweight or obese are more likely to carry this extra weight into adulthood.
“That puts them at risk of developing heart disease later in life, but several studies now suggest the damage could begin in childhood.
“No matter what age you are, maintaining a healthy body weight is a key step towards maintaining a healthy heart.” - Daily Mail