LONDON (CBS Atlanta) – Overweight and obese preschoolers may already have the risk factors in place for heart disease and diabetes, reports Live Science

Italian researchers studied the pediatric records of more than 5,700 healthy children ages 2 to 6 from 2011 and 2012.

Nearly 40 percent of these children had at least one abnormal reading in their metabolism, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and elevated levels of  blood sugar.

Those same abnormalities are linked to an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes in adults.

About one-third of the children also showed nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, an abnormal buildup of fats on the liver.

The children showing the abnormalities also had a higher body mass index than those without them.

“Our results suggest that the risk for metabolic abnormalities related to obesity begins to manifest early in the natural history of weight gain,” the researchers, from the Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital in Italy, wrote in the Aug. 11 issue of the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

The findings suggest that doctors may need to screen for such abnormalities in children at an earlier age than is currently recommended, the researchers said.

The CDC says the number of childhood obesity cases has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents over the past 30 years.

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