Obese children as young as 7 already have the beginnings of artery disease, Italian and U.S. researchers reported. They found signs that the carotid arteries of 100 obese children were already becoming thick and stiff, as well as indications that the children may have a higher risk of diabetes. "You can see vascular changes already this early in really obese children," said Dr. Maurizio Trevisan of the University at Buffalo in New York, who led the study. "We know that obesity in childhood increases the risk of atherosclerosis and death in adulthood," he added. "It is important for parents of obese children to help their children control their weight and get early treatment for these obesity-associated risk factors." Trevisan, Dr. Archangelo Iannuzzi of Cava de' Tirreni Hospital in Salerno, Italy, and colleagues report their findings in the October issue of Diabetes Care. For their study they screened 100 children aged 6 to 14 brought to a clinic in Naples because they were overweight. They compared those children to 47 of normal weight. On average the obese children had higher insulin resistance -- a measure of tendency to diabetes -- than children of normal weight. They also had higher blood pressure and cholesterol. For instance, the obese children had an average blood pressure of 120/76 while the normal weight children had an average pressure of 98/65. Importantly, ultrasound scans showed the obese children had thicker and stiffer carotid arteries, the researchers said. The carotid arteries carry blood to the head. "In adults, arterial thickening has been shown to be a precursor of arterial narrowing and to predict clinical coronary artery disease," said Trevisan. An estimated 15 percent of U.S. children are overweight or obese and children in many European countries are catching up. The study shows that obesity acts quickly to damage the arteries of children and that parents and doctors need to act quickly to protect them, the researchers said.