Overweight preschoolers have twice the odds of developing high blood pressure by age 6, putting them at risk of heart attack and stroke later in life.
And those odds begin building as early as age 4, a new study reports.
"The myth that excess weight in children has no consequences hampers the prevention and control of this health problem," said study author Dr. Inaki Galan, from Carlos III Health Institute in Madrid, Spain.
"Parents need to be more physically active with young children and provide a healthy diet," Galan added. "Women should shed extra pounds before becoming pregnant, avoid gaining excess weight during pregnancy, and quit smoking, as these are all established risk factors for childhood obesity."
For the study, Galan and his team looked at the weight and blood pressure of nearly 1,800 4-year-olds. The children were tested again at age 6.
Compared with kids who maintained a healthy weight throughout the study, those who were obese had nearly triple the risk of developing high blood pressure between ages of 4 and 6.
Kids who lost weight did not have the increased risk, the study found.
The report was published June 13 in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
"There is a chain of risk, whereby overweight and obesity lead to high blood pressure, which heightens the chance of cardiovascular disease if allowed to track into adulthood," Galan said in a journal news release. "But the results show that children who return to a normal weight also regain a healthy blood pressure."
The American Heart Association offers more about high blood pressure in children.