By: MELISSA DAVEY
PRECURSORY signs of cardiovascular disease can be seen in children as young as 12 who have a high intake of sugary drinks, Sydney researchers have found, which could have implications for the rates of the disease in the future.
While narrowed blood vessels inside the eye are a known precursor to cardiovascular disease in adults, researchers from the Westmead Millennium Institute for medical research have for the first time looked at the link between carbohydrates, which includes sugars, and the retinal health of children.
Nearly 2000 12-year-olds had retinal images taken at the Centre for Vision Research at the University of Sydney. Narrowing of the retinal arteries was seen in those children with an intake of more than 274 grams of carbohydrate a day.
A major source of those carbohydrates was soft drinks or cordial, found the study published in this month's American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, with high-risk children consuming one or more glasses a day.
The study leader, Bamini Gopinath, said the health of retinal blood vessels gave a ''very accurate'' indication of blood vessel health throughout the entire body.
''We need to carry out further studies, but it is definitely a warning to parents and children to cut down on carbohydrates and sugar,'' Dr Gopinath said.
Doing so could play a role in reducing overall cardiovascular disease rates and deaths in the long-term, she said, with the condition causing more deaths each year in Australia than any other disease.
There was a slightly higher association between high carbohydrate diet and narrowed blood vessels in girls than in boys. Even allowing for physical activity and screen viewing time, the results remained largely unchanged. The same children from the study would be followed throughout adolescence to see if the damage persisted beyond childhood.
The nutritionist Rosemary Stanton said the research added to evidence that consuming soft drinks was bad for overall health.
''There are no advantages of soft drinks,'' Ms Stanton said.