Metabolic Syndrome Found in Many Young Kids
Syndrome Tied to Diabetes, Heart Disease; Poor Diet, Inactivity Raise Risk
June 2, 2005 -- With more U.S. children than ever before dealing with
diabetes, health experts are warning that many others may be heading in that
direction, courtesy of metabolic syndrome, a group of risk
factors that have been shown to raise the risk of diabetes and heart
Even young children can be affected. A new study from Kansas shows that out
of 375 second- and third-grade students, 5% had metabolic syndrome and 45% had
one or two risk factors for it.
Those risk factors include central obesity (a big waist), elevated blood
pressure, high blood levels of fats called triglycerides, low levels of HDL
("good") cholesterol, and higher-than-normal blood sugar levels (yet
not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes). Those problems can often be
overcome with a healthy diet and physical activity.
The findings were presented in Nashville at the American College of Sports
Medicine's 52nd Annual Meeting. But American
kids aren't the only ones at risk for metabolic
Earlier this week, it was reported that half a million European children may
be facing metabolic syndrome. That news came from the 14th European Congress on
Obesity, held in Athens, Greece.
Syndrome Seen in 7-Year-Olds
The Kansas data comes from a three-year project that aims to boost physical
activity at school. The study is still being conducted. So far, the researchers
have released figures on the kids' health status at the beginning of the
Out of about 2,000 children in the study, 375 got in-depth blood tests. That
let exercise physiologist Katrina DuBose, PhD, and colleagues screen for
"I was pretty surprised to see the prevalence of 5%," DuBose tells
WebMD. She says she had seen U.S. data from 1999-2002 showing that 6% of U.S.
adolescents had metabolic syndrome during 1999-2002 and expected that numbers
to be lower for her much-younger students.
Most Common Risk Factor: High Blood Pressure
To be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, the children had to have at least
three of the condition's risk factors. Many more were teetering on the border.
Of the 45% with one or two risk factors, the
most common factor was high blood
That also surprised DuBose. "I would have thought that
obesity was going to be the most common
component," she says. DuBose says she checked other studies and found that
"increased blood pressure in children seems to be a bigger problem than
people might intuitively think."
Children (or adults, for that matter) can turn the trend around. "The
good news is that at any point in a person's life, these things can be modified
and changed," says DuBose. "It's relatively easy. A lot of it is
improvements in food choices -- like more fruits and vegetables and fewer junk
foods -- and going out and being more active."
physical activity throughout a child's day, says DuBose, a
postdoctoral fellow at the University of Kansas. That could mean going outside
to play a game of tag or embedding exercise into the school day, she
Health habits learned in youth tend to carry over into adulthood -- for
better or worse. Getting on the right track at a young age can yield years of
benefits, and it's never too late to start.
It's a good idea to check in with a doctor first. Some metabolic syndrome
risk factors (such as cholesterol and triglyceride levels) aren't usually
checked in routine pediatric visits.