Early Predictors of Metabolic Syndrome in Healthy Kids

Children as young as seven years old can show markers for metabolic syndrome, a condition that raises their risk for type 2 diabetes and a host of other health problems, according to university researchers.

The preliminary study, which looked at 100 children aged seven to nine years, suggests that high blood pressure, physical inactivity, and low birth weight are possible early predictors of metabolic syndrome.  Researchers haven’t yet identified precisely how these factors influence one another and contribute to the ultimate development of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. Although more work is needed, the revelation that these signs can be spotted at a young age and linked to the risk of later developing metabolic syndrome is important.

Melinda Sothern, Professor of Public Health and Director of Health Promotion at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, presented the study last month at the International Congress on Obesity in Stockholm. “Although some of the risk factors cannot be changed,” Sothern said, “pregnancy weight, birth weight, and physical activity can all be modified and are targets for early intervention to prevent or delay insulin resistance and reduce the risk for metabolic syndrome.”

The syndrome itself, according to the National Institutes of Health, occurs when a person has three of the following four health problems: high blood pressure, high triglycerides, low HDL (the “good” kind of cholesterol), or obesity. Metabolic syndrome dramatically increases the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

The causes of the syndrome range from the obvious–high weight and physical inactivity–to the subtle–ethnicity and genetics. Sothern said that patients should focus on what they can change, especially given that danger signs apparently appear earlier than scientists previously thought.

“A genetic predisposition for metabolic syndrome, with risk factors occurring early in life, makes it even more important to control the risk factors that we can, such as being physically active and maintaining healthy weight,” Sothern said.

Researchers behind the preliminary study included other scientists from LSU, the University of Wyoming, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

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