CHILDREN who live off junk food can develop stiff arteries by the age of just 17, research shows.
Experts said eating loads of fat and sugar ages the heart faster, raising stroke and heart attack risk before kids even leave school.
The British Heart Foundation warned the soaring cost of living makes it harder for families to eat well.
Study author Dr Genevieve Buckland, from the University of Bristol, said: “This shows the importance of developing well-balanced eating habits from childhood.
“Arterial stiffness is an important sign of blood vessel damage with potential for long-lasting effects.”
Arteries carry fresh blood out of the heart and around the body and naturally get stiffer with age.
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Stiffness means they cannot carry as much blood in one go, forcing the heart to beat more often and increasing blood pressure.
Carrying too much fat, smoking and having diabetes speed up this process and raise the risk of deadly heart diseases.
Dr Buckland’s study checked around 4,700 kids’ diets at ages seven, 10 and 13, and measured their arteries at ages 17 and 24.
Children with diets high in calories, fat and sugar, and low in fibre, had stiffer arteries aged 17 compared to those who had a healthier upbringing.
One in every 11 kids in England is obese by the time they start school and more than a third are overweight by the end of Year Six.
Ultra-processed foods, which are more likely to be unhealthy, make up around two thirds of British children’s diets, a Parliamentary report found.
Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Heart disease is the UK’s major cause of disability and premature death.
“The results of this study suggest that improving people’s diets has to start early and be lifelong.”