Fat children are more likely to suffer a stroke before the age of 55, warns new research.

The study shows high child body mass index (BMI) and gain in BMI increases the risk of early stroke in adulthood.

The research, presented at the European Obesity Summit in Sweden, shows that a high BMI in childhood, and also gains in BMI, are associated with an increased risk of early stroke in adults for both men and women.

Scientists say adult BMI is associated with ischemic stroke, especially at younger ages, but the association between childhood BMI and ischemic stroke in adulthood is unclear.

The researchers aimed to investigate if childhood BMI and gain in BMI during childhood are associated with the risk of early and late adult ischemic stroke.

They studied 307,677 Danish school children born from 1930 to 1987 who had weight and height measurements taken at age seven through 13.

BMI was calculated and transformed to ‘z-scores’ – a method for comparing how large a child is compared to a reference population.

They then identified ischemic stroke events by linkage to national registers and categorised them as early (25 to 55 years old) or late (over 55) events. The effects of BMI and gain in BMI between ages seven and 13 were estimated.

During a total of 8,128,058 person-years of follow-up, 3,529 women and 5,370 men had an ischemic stroke.

The researchers found both men and women with a childhood BMI z-score above average had an increased risk of early, but not late, ischemic stroke.

The pattern of the associations with early ischemic stroke were similar at all ages in childhood, but strongest at age 13, where a BMI z-score of one increased the risk of early stroke by 26 per cent in women and 21 per cent in men.

To put the findings in perspective, compared to an average height and weight child born in the late 1950s, a girl of the same height but who weighed 6.8 kilos (15 lbs) more would have a 26 per cent higher risk of early ischemic stroke.

And a boy of the same height who weighed 5.9 kilos (13lbs) more would have a 21 per cent higher risk of early ischemic stroke.

A BMI z-score gain of 0.5 from age seven to 13 was also associated with an about 10 per cent increased risk of early ischemic stroke in both women and men.

Dr Line Klingen Haugaard, of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, said: “In this large prospective study we found that having a BMI above average in childhood as well as a BMI gain during childhood increases the risk of early adult ischemic stroke.

“Future research should address pathways through which these risks arise.”

Dr Haugaard added: “The results of this study highlight the potential effects that childhood overweight and obesity on the early development of atherosclerosis as well as other factors such as hypertension and type 2 diabetes, which are risk factors for ischemic stroke.”

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