Metabolic syndrome occurred in 1 out of 10 people in their mid-30s, according to a new study. The findings are reported in the Jan. 10 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine. People with this condition are at high risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.
Metabolic syndrome is becoming more common, especially among young adults, say the researchers, who included Isabel Ferreira, PhD, of the Institute for Research in Extramural Medicine in the Netherlands.
Symptoms of metabolic syndrome include excess body fat (especially around the waist and chest), high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and insulin resistance. Insulin resistance occurs when the body is not able to effectively use insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar.
Those red flags can show up at an early age. In fact, they can start gathering when someone is barely old enough to drive a car.
The teen years seem to be the key time to make a difference. "Intervening early in life (e.g., in the period of transition from adolescence to young adulthood) may be a fruitful area for prevention of the metabolic syndrome," say Ferreira and colleagues.
They reached that conclusion after studying more than 360 Amsterdam residents aged 13-36. The researchers wanted to see who developed metabolic syndrome, and why.
Just more than 10% of participants had metabolic syndrome at age 36. More men were diagnosed than women (18% vs. 3%).
Those with metabolic syndrome had gained more body fat since their teen years, especially around their midsection. But body fat wasn't the only risk factor. Several other trends also stood out.
Participants with metabolic syndrome were more likely to have a steep decline in fitness level.
By age 36, they favored light-to-moderate activities such as gardening or walking, instead of heart-pounding aerobic exercise, such as running. In contrast, their peers without metabolic syndrome had lower but steadier fitness levels over the years.
The findings could help steer young people away from metabolic syndrome, say the researchers. Reaching a healthy weight and exercising vigorously might make a difference, but promoting moderate drinking in youth is a problem. "Such a strategy may easily outweigh its beneficial effects," they say.