BACKGROUND: Childhood obesity has been correlated with coronary heart disease, but the correlation with microvascular disease remains unclear. The retinal microcirculation is affected early in the process of atherosclerosis and it offers the opportunity to indirectly study the effects of obesity on small brain vessels. Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-I) is involved in angiogenesis and it has a crucial role in retinal vascularization.
METHODS: A single-centre cross-sectional study was performed in 268 children and adolescents (116 males; mean age 13.03 ± 1.9 years,) with overweight/obesity, in order to identify risk factors for early retinopathy.
RESULTS: Nine patients (3.3%) showed signs of retinopathy, defined as arteriovenous crossings and/or papilledema. Body mass index and fat mass, analysed by Dual X-ray Absorptiometry, were not different in patients with or without retinopathy. Patients with retinopathy were pubertal and showed higher waist circumference (107.78 ± 15.83 versus 99.46 ± 10.85 cm; p: 0.027), waist circumference/height ratio (0.66 ± 0.07 versus 0.62 ± 0.05; p: 0.04) and IGF-I SDS (0.03 ± 1.3 versus - 0.66 ± 0.9; p: 0.04). Multivariate analysis (after correction for sex, age, family history of type 2 diabetes mellitus, obesity, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and dyslipidaemia) showed that waist circumference/height ratio and IGF-I SDS were the only variables independently correlated with the presence of retinopathy.
CONCLUSIONS: Retinal vascular changes may become evident as an early complication of overweight and obesity, even during childhood and adolescence. Relatively high levels of IGF-I during this phase may act as an additional risk factor for microvascular damage. The screening for retinopathy should be proposed to all children and adolescents with overweight/obesity.