Teenagers who have obesity, type 2 diabetes (T2D), or high blood pressure may be more likely to have signs of premature blood vessel aging compared with teens without those health conditions, according to research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Researchers evaluated 141 teens with normal weight, 156 who had obesity, and 151 who had T2D over the course of 5 years with an average age of 17.6 years at the beginning of the study. At the end of 5 years, the teens with either obesity, T2D, or high systolic blood pressure were significantly more likely to have thicker and stiffer carotid arteries, the main blood vessel that leads to the brain, according to the study.

Carotid artery health was assessed by non-invasive ultrasound and pulse wave velocity, which measured the thickness of the inner 2 layers of the blood vessel, called the 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 5 years later.

The researchers concluded that teens with obesity, T2D, or high systolic blood pressure had greater change in the thickness and stiffness of their arteries, compared with participants in the group with normal weight. This would suggest a greater risk of early heart attacks or strokes among the teens with obesity, T2D, or high systolic blood pressure, according to the study authors.

“Although [T2D] is treated aggressively in the US, obesity needs to be treated just as vigorously because it has the same increased risk for premature aging of the blood vessels, which is an early sign of cardiovascular dysfunction and a precursor to cardiovascular diseases in adulthood,” said lead study author Justin R. Ryder, PhD, in a press release.

A limitation of the research is that the teenagers were not followed into adulthood to track whether the premature aging of their blood vessels results in heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular conditions. However, strengths of the study included its large population size and the objective measurements of carotid artery health 5 years apart.

Teen obesity, diabetes, or high blood pressure may lead to prematurely aged arteries [news release]. Dallas, TX; American Heart Association: May 6, 2020. https://newsroom.heart.org/news/teen-obesity-diabetes-or-high-blood-pressure-may-lead-to-prematurely-aged-arteries. Accessed May 6, 2020.