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Fat teenage girls risk metabolic syndrome, says study

By Lorraine Heller , 28-Nov-2005

Teenage girls who have a large waist circumference and a high levels of triglycerides may run a greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome in later life, according to research published in this month's issue of Pediatrics.

The researchers, who examined over 1000 girls for a period of 10 years starting at ages 9 to 10, found that 3.5 percent of the black girls studied and 2.3 percent of white girls had developed the syndrome in their late teens, after demonstrating early predictors for the disease.

"The development of abnormal levels of the individual elements constituting the metabolic syndrome can have its origins and onset in adolescence and develop through adulthood," said the authors, headed by Dr John Morrison from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio.

According to the researchers, low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol was prevalent throughout the period in both black and white girls. The prevalence of other variables was low at enrollment but increased during follow-up, except for abnormal triglyceride levels in black girls, which remained low throughout follow-up.

"Early recognition of central adiposity is critical, and as this study illustrated, preadolescent central adiposity that does not persist is not associated with increased incidence of the syndrome. Thus, taking action in adolescence could provide major health benefits," concluded the researchers.

The metabolic syndrome is often defined as having any three or more of the following: a large waist circumference; high triglyceride levels; high blood pressure; low HDL cholesterol; and high blood glucose levels.

But the World Health Organization offers a different definition, including anyone who has diabetes or insulin resistance and two of the following: high waist-to-hip ratio; high triglycerides or low HDL cholesterol; high blood pressure; and a high urinary albumin excretion rate.

In April, the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) said it had gathered experts from six continents to produce a consensus definition. This requires that a person has central obesity, plus two of four additional factors: raised triglycerides, reduced HDL cholesterol, raised blood pressure, or raised fasting plasma glucose level.

The use of different definitions has made it difficult to estimate the prevalence of metabolic syndrome although recent data from Australia and the US provides a broad estimate of 20-25 per cent of the adult population, according to the IDF.

But there are clearer figures for diabetes - the US' fifth cause of death by disease - and heart disease, the world's number one killer, according to WHO.

It is widely agreed that prevention of the syndrome, or its different elements, should be through nutrition.

Ingredient firms like Frutarom, Indena and Degussa are amongst the companies that have recently launched new products designed to target metabolic syndrome, or specific cardiovascular risk factors.

Indeed, Dr Morris and his colleagues conclude that targeting fat at an early age is key to preventing the development of metabolic syndrome.

"Early interventions aimed at managing preteen obesity could reduce risk of developing the syndrome," they said.

The nation's growing obesity epidemic is currently thought to affect more than 64 percent of the US's adult population and 16 percent of children, a factor which has resulted in food manufacturers increasingly changing product formulations and stressing nutritional values in an effort to attract health conscious consumers.

For example, food makers are increasingly reaching out to consumers with products that market the health benefits of foods rich in wholegrains, after a body of growing evidence suggests eating wholegrain cereals could bring a string of health benefits.

A study last year by the US government science agency Agriculture Research Service (ARS) revealed at least three or more daily servings of wholegrain foods such as brown rice, wholegrain bread and cereals could reduce chances of developing metabolic syndrome.

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