Metabolic syndrome in children

Approximately one-third of children were found to be overweight or obese, putting them at increased risk for developing metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome in children
Thirty percent of kids were found to be overweight or obese. Photo by Gabin Vallet / Unsplash

Metabolic syndrome is a set of alterations that are related to the development of different chronic diseases. Its presence increases up to two times the risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease and up to five times the probability of developing diabetes.

Although the International Diabetes Federation mentions that it is not likely to find this syndrome in children under ten years of age, a study was conducted at the Center for Research in Food and Development (CIAD) where it was proven that this is possible.

This study was carried out on children from 6 to 9 years old, from rural and urban areas of Sonora. It was found that 3 out of 10 children were overweight or obese, a condition that could predispose them to suffer from metabolic syndrome. It was also observed that about 35% of the children in both areas had high percentages of fat; however, those living in urban areas had higher values of blood glucose, insulin, and insulin resistance than those living in rural areas. The concentrations of triglycerides, high-density lipoproteins (good cholesterol), and very low-density lipoproteins (bad cholesterol) were higher in those living in rural areas.

In the analyses, insulin resistance was detected in 9 children in rural areas and 22 in urban areas. In addition, acanthosis nigricans (dark areas in body folds, due to the presence of obesity and/or diabetes) was found in 9 children in the rural area and 6 in the urban area, associated with high insulin levels; this indicator was only present in children with a high percentage of fat.

Thus, in this study, it was found that it is possible to detect metabolic syndrome in children under 10 years of age since the prevalence of metabolic syndrome in children aged 6 to 9 years was 4.1% and it was identified mainly in overweight and obese children.

Cardiovascular and diabetes risk factors progress from childhood to adolescence and then into adulthood. If these factors are detected and controlled early, the onset of noncommunicable diseases associated with them could be prevented.

To prevent these risk factors, as well as overweight and obesity in children, it is important that, as a family, a good diet is maintained, that there is no smoking present and that physical exercise is performed. In the case of children, it is advisable to dedicate at least sixty minutes a day of exercise, three days a week, and to limit the time dedicated to sedentary activities, particularly in front of a screen.

In the case of parents, moderate physical activity is recommended for at least 3-5 hours per week, accompanied by a varied diet, i.e., consumption of fruits and vegetables, seeds such as nuts and peanuts, beef, chicken, fish, cereals such as corn tortillas and oatmeal, among others. It also helps to drink enough water and reduce the consumption of sugary drinks.

Authors: Abril Peña Meza, Master of Science student, and Graciela Caire Juvera and María del Socorro Saucedo Tamayo, researchers of the Nutrition Coordination of CIAD.