Obesity ups kids’ health risk more than expected

Obese children are more likely than previously thought to develop a cluster of health conditions that put them at increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, results of a new study suggest.

The more weight children gain, the more likely they are to develop so-called metabolic syndrome, researchers report.

“Obesity in children and adolescents can lead to a number of complications like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and so forth,” Dr. Sonia Caprio told Reuters Health.

“Obesity is not a cosmetic issue and preventive measures ought to be implemented to stop further weight gain,” said Caprio, who is at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut.

The metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors that often precedes type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Signs of the metabolic syndrome include abdominal obesity, high levels of blood fats called triglycerides, low levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar.

It’s no secret that the waistlines of America’s children and teens are rapidly expanding, so Caprio and her colleagues set out to measure the relationship between obesity and a variety of health risk factors.

The study included 439 obese children and adolescents as well as 20 of their non-obese brothers and sisters and 31 overweight siblings.

Obese children and adolescents were at high risk of the metabolic syndrome, Caprio and her team report in this week’s issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

Almost 39 percent of moderately obese children and almost 50 percent of the severely obese were classified as having the metabolic syndrome. The higher a child’s body mass index (BMI) - a measure of weight in relation to height - the greater was the risk of the metabolic syndrome.

“Our findings suggest that the metabolic syndrome is far more common among children and adolescents than previously reported and that its prevalence increases with the degree of obesity,” the team writes.

Obesity was also associated with an increased risk of impaired glucose tolerance, a condition marked by elevated blood sugar levels that often precedes type 2 diabetes.

“If the weight and degree of obesity increases, the child or the adolescent is at risk for the development of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease at a young age,” Caprio said.

In fact, among a group of children and adolescents who were re-examined two years later, eight participants who already had the metabolic syndrome had developed type 2 diabetes.

Future studies should examine the underlying causes of the metabolic syndrome in children and how to reverse it, Caprio said. “More importantly, we need to prevent childhood obesity,” she said.

SOURCE: New England Journal of Medicine, June 3, 2004

Provided by ArmMed Media
Revision date: June 11, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.