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Adolescents, increase in body weight signals disease risk

Results of a research that looked at body weight, fat distribution and physical fitness among 83 high school students in Colorado , showed that signs of risk for chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases-previously thought of as adult disorders-are on the rise among youth.

“ We wanted to look at children ages 13 to 18 in this study,” said Teresa A. Sharp, lead researcher. “A number of studies have evaluated the relationship between obesity, fat distribution, and risk of chronic disease in adults, but few studies have examined these issues in children.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC ), 16 percent of children age six to 19 are considered overweight.

In this study, the majority of participants were overweight—most had close to 30 percent body fat. Sharp points out that a healthy body fat percent for boys is 19 to 20 percent, and for girls about 23 percent.

Seventy-two percent of the children in the study were Hispanic and 21 percent were Caucasian. The study focused on Hispanic children because as adults they are particularly prone to develop type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

What Sharp and her colleagues found was that during the two-year period of the study, as weight, waist circumference, and body mass index ( BMI ) of the young people increased, their risk for chronic diseases also increased.

Researchers were able to measure increases in the total cholesterol and triglycerides, and a decrease in HDL cholesterol as the study participants became more overweight. This indicated they were at increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Researchers also saw increases in fasting glucose and insulin level—risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

“ What surprises me is that two years is not a long period, yet we are seeing disease risk indicators for adult diseases in these kids,” said Sharp. “We have been seeing an increase in childhood obesity, and now we are starting to see the health implications that the obesity epidemic is causing. These kids are obviously now at risk for adult diseases, primarily due to obesity.”

The study also looked at changes in fitness level over the two-year period, and while most of the children became less fit over the two-year period, this was not significantly related to an increase in chronic disease risk.

The researchers indicate that it is imperative that public health professionals address the issue of increasing weight among youth, or be faced with a generation of individuals who will have to live with lifestyle-related chronic diseases as they enter young adulthood.

Source: 52nd American College of Sports Medicine ( ACSM ) Annual Meeting