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Excessive food intake in childhood & inflammatory changes

Author Dr. Jürgen Hower, paediatrician from Mühlheim a.d. Ruhr (Germany)

Childhood obesity is a global health concern. Early epigenetic programming of food intake occurs both during intrauterine development throughout pregnancy and within the first year of life. Existing data indicates that overweight and obesity in childhood and adolescence tend to persist into adulthood, impacting susceptibility to chronic and/or lifestyle diseases. There is still a lack of comprehensive understanding of the long-term biochemical changes that can result from unhealthy eating behaviour. The authors therefore conducted a prospective study to investigate the link between reported eating behaviour in the first ten years of life and metabolic profiles at the age of 16.

• The results show that early and increasing overeating is associated with higher serum lipid concentrations (cholesterol, phospholipids, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids) at age 16. As compared to children with no history of overeating, adolescents who overeat also have a higher concentration of very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) particles, which are early indicators of an increased metabolic risk.

Increased levels of blood lipids at the age of 12 were linked to a higher body mass index (BMI). At the age of 16, adolescents with a history of overeating showed lower concentration of citrate in their blood, indicating a potential impairment in the citric acid cycle, responsible for converting carbohydrates and fats into energy.

• Undereating is not linked to an increase in VLDL, but to an increase in glutamine. A history of low then rapidly increasing fussy eating in childhood is associated with a low concentration of valine, whereas highly persistent fussy eating is associated with a low concentration of acetate.

Conclusion: Obese and overweight children often face discrimination from their peers, exacerbating their eating problems and negatively impacting their mental health. Childhood obesity is associated with a higher level of inflammation, poorer mental health, and an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and cancer in later life. The Bogalusa study has already demonstrated that elevated lipid levels in early childhood can be traced into adulthood and are linked to obesity and cardiovascular risks. Based on the findings of these studies, early treatment of even slightly elevated blood lipid levels appears to be of significant importance for the long-term prevention of cardiovascular diseases. Arteriosclerosis begins in childhood.

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