Early Indicators for Metabolic Syndrome Identified in Children as Young as Seven

June 11, 2009

Researchers at the Health Sciences Center of Louisiana State University's New Orleans School of Public Health have discovered markers for metabolic syndrome in children as young as seven.

Researchers at the Health Sciences Center (HSC) of Louisiana State University’s (LSU) New Orleans School of Public Health have discovered markers for metabolic syndrome in children as young as seven.

Study director Melinda Sothern, PhD, Professor and Director of Health Promotion at the LSU HSC New Orleans School of Public Health, and colleagues identified three previously unknown indicators for metabolic syndrome. Fat in the liver and skeletal leg muscles were predictive of poor insulin sensitivity, high pre-diabetes insulin resistance, and an impaired ability for burning fat in the muscles. The researchers added that these relationships were only found when the child’s current “fat weight” was accounted for, “so the strongest predictor is whether or not these young children are currently overweight or obese.”

According to the researchers, the fat identified in skeletal muscle was less important when three items were taken into consideration: the mother’s weight before and during pregnancy, whether or not the child was breastfed, and the amount of current physical activity the child was getting.

Insulin resistance and poor insulin sensitivity are “closely associated with increased total body fat and may precede development of the metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes,” according to the research. Markers for poor insulin sensitivity “have yet to be clearly identified in children prior to puberty.”

The study results were compiled using data from the ongoing HSC Study of Insulin-sensitivity in Louisiana Low-birth-weight Youth (SILLY), the principal aim of which is to investigate “the importance of birth weight to diabetes.” Sothern and her fellow researchers examined the data of118 healthy children between seven and nine years old participating in SILLY.

“This means that if the mother has a healthy weight gain during pregnancy and the child is breast-fed and physically active, the fat may not accumulate in the skeletal muscle and/or liver and the child may not experience an impaired fat burning ability in the muscle,” said Sothern. “All of these factors are significantly associated with poor insulin sensitivity that may eventually lead to type 2 diabetes in adolescence or young adulthood. We hope to conduct future prospective studies in this cohort of healthy children to confirm this finding.”

The study results were presented at the American Diabetes Association 2009 Annual Scientific Sessions (), held in New Orleans.