Overweight children are three to five times more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke before they reach 65 than slimmer youngsters, says the Geneva-based World Heart Federation.
Diseases previously seen only in adults are now being diagnosed in hefty children, who are likely to also be overweight or obese as adults.
Unhealthy lifestyles including high calorie diets, little exercise and hours spent in front of the television or computer have contributed to a surge in childhood obesity.
An estimated 10 percent of children, or at least 155 million youngsters worldwide, are overweight or obese.
Researchers believe that parents, children and adolescents do not fully realize that the habits adopted at a young age could lead to health problems in adulthood. They called for a revamp of nutrition in schools, including a rethink of what is served in cafeterias and sold in vending machines. Policy makers also need to increase physical activity in schools.
The Federation also warned that tobacco is threatening the health of children's hearts. Globally nearly 25 percent of students smoke and half of children worldwide are subjected to passive smoking by living with a smoker.
Children regularly exposed to second-hand smoke have a 25 percent increased risk of both lung cancer and heart disease and an 80 percent higher risk of stroke, according to the Federation.
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