The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the rate of obese children and teens increased from 19% pre-pandemic to 22%.

Now, a new study from the University of Georgia has suggested that obese children and teens are developing cardiovascular complications, according to Science Daily.

The study, published in the journal Pediatric Obesity, measured abdominal visceral fat levels and arterial stiffness in over 600 children, teenagers, and young adults.

Researchers found that overweight youth had significantly higher levels of abdominal visceral fat and arterial stiffness, which can contribute to cardiovascular complications.

Visceral fat is the adipose tissue found in the abdomen that infiltrates vital organs, while arterial stiffness forces the heart to pump blood throughout the body, affecting the cardiovascular system.

The study’s corresponding author Dr. Joseph Kindler said, “The stiffer the artery, the faster blood is going to move through those blood vessels, and that can be detrimental and overstress our system. As these issues build up, unfortunately, it’s sort of this game of dominoes. You tip one over, and the rest of the systems start being overtaxed. That’s when really pervasive health issues can occur.”

The researchers believe the negative changes to the cardiovascular system most likely begin in childhood and adolescence.

Dr. Kindler explained, “We want to prevent cardiovascular disease. We want kids to live strong, healthy lives into adulthood. But to do that, we need to know the underlying factors contributing to poor health outcomes so that we can identify where to target, whether that’s through diet, physical activity, sleep or some other intervention.”

“Identification is key, and then intervention is critical,” he added.

The researchers also found that children with high body mass index (BMI) have stiffer arteries.

Dr. Kindler noted, “One really important take-home message is that arterial stiffness, which predisposes children to cardiovascular disease down the line, looks to be the most pronounced in individuals who have a high BMI.”

Type 2 diabetes is yet another concern in children and adolescents. Obesity is one of the biggest risk factors for diabetes. The researchers found that of all the participants, 145 had been diagnosed with diabetes.

Dr. Kindler said, “It’s a very pervasive, scary condition in youth, even more so than in adults.”

“Many body systems tend to degrade at a more accelerated rate if the disease occurs during the growing years than in adulthood,” he added. “This disease attacks the brain, the kidneys, the bones, the liver. It really heightens the need for understanding ways we can prevent disease.”