Obesity, Diabetes or High Blood Pressure Prematurely Ages Teenage Arteries

May 12, 2020
Gretchen Cuda Kroen

Obesity, type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure may prematurely age arteries , according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Obesity, type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure may prematurely age arteries , according to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

The research compared the carotid arteries of teenagers (average age 17.6) with normal weight, obesity, and type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure over the course of five years. The researchers used a non-invasive ultrasound and pulse wave velocity to assess the characteristics of the carotid arteries. The ultrasound measured the thickness of the inner two layers of the blood vessel, known as carotid intima-media thickness. The pulse wave velocity gauges how fast blood flows through the vessels to determine arterial stiffness. Both measures were taken at the beginning of the study and five years later.

They found that those individuals who were obese, diabetic or hypertensive were significantly more likely to have thicker and stiffer carotid arteries.

“Our study demonstrates that the slow changes in blood vessels that lead to the development of atherosclerosis begins early in life,” said lead study author Justin R. Ryder, Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics and associate director of research for the Center for Pediatric Obesity Medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis. 

“Having obesity, type 2 diabetes or high systolic blood pressure were each independently associated with and equally predictive of having thicker and stiffer arteries among this group of young people. What surprised our team the most was that participants with higher systolic blood pressure compared to their peers in the study had a very similar risk as those with obesity or type 2 diabetes for thicker and stiffer blood vessels over time,” said Ryder.

Ryder added that although type 2 diabetes is treated aggressively in the U.S., according to their research, obesity has the same increased risk for premature aging of the blood vessels, and therefore needs to be taken just as seriously.

Ryder JR, Northrop E, Rudser KD, et al. Accelerated Early Vascular Aging Among Adolescents With Obesity and/or Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus [published online ahead of print, 2020 May 6]. J Am Heart Assoc. 2020;e014891. doi:10.1161/JAHA.119.014891