Research led by Dr. Melinda Sothern, Professor of Public Health and Jim Finks Endowed Chair in Health Promotion at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, has found that obese 7-9-year-old children had nearly three times the liver fat and almost double the belly fat of their nonobese counterparts and that insulin resistance was more than double and insulin sensitivity less than half respectively. The study is the first to use a combination of advanced measurements in healthy obese and nonobese children in this age group prior to entering puberty.
The findings are detailed in the journal, Obesity, online August 25, 2011.
"The amount of body fat as well as its location, particularly in the liver, appears to play a critical role in disease development," notes LSUHSC's Dr. Melinda Sothern. "The substantial variation in biomarkers we observed in these young children suggests that obesity in this age group may disrupt normal metabolism, impairing glucose tolerance and increasing the risk for Type 2 diabetes later in life."
The researchers studied 123 children, ages 7-9, recruited from southeast Louisiana. By BMI z-score thresholds, 23.6% of the children were obese. Although a clear definition for the metabolic syndrome in children and adolescents has not yet been established, by one set of proposed criteria, 16% of participants met the definition, and 8% met the criteria by another definition.
"Our data confirm that healthy obese young children may already be predisposed to the development of metabolic disease as has been demonstrated in adult populations," said Dr. Sothern. "Our findings highlight the importance of interventions to prevent and manage obesity very early in life and suggest this is a possible means of reducing metabolic disease risk and combating the increasing prevalence of Type 2 diabetes."
Over the past 30 years, the prevalence of obesity has increased considerably. Although a recent national report indicates a leveling off of this trend, a significant portion of the pediatric population remains obese and at risk for developing metabolic diseases, particularly those related to carbohydrate metabolism. Some regions, especially areas with traditionally higher obesity prevalence rates, however, may not mirror national estimates.
The research team also included Drs. Julia Volaufova, William Cefalu, Stuart Chalew, Stewart Gordon, and Arlette Soros as well as Brian Bennett at LSU Health Sciences Center; Drs. Eric Ravussin, and Steve Smith at LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center, as well as Dr. Enette Larson-Meyer at the University of Wyoming; Dr. Bradley Newcomer at the University of Alabama at Birmingham; and Dr. Michael Goran at the University of Southern California.
The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders.
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