Researchers at Texas Biomed in San Antonio report that Mexican American children are presenting with obesity and pre-diabetes along with other health issues that normally occur later in life (metabolic syndrome). They suggest these children receive early screening and intervention to prevent chronic health issues as they age. This research was directed by Ravindranath Duggirla, Ph.D., a Texas Biomed scientist, along with scientists from University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and other institutions. Their findings are available online in the journal Human Genetics. This research was primarily funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Metabolic syndrome is a combination of health disorders, that when present together, increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Symptoms include an increase in blood pressure, blood sugar and insulin along with excess fat around the waist and in the bloodstream. Currently, it is estimated that 2.5 million teenagers in the U.S. have this syndrome, and Mexican Americans are particularly susceptible.
Texas Biomed researchers looked at 670 non-diabetic girls and boys from lower-income extended Mexican American families. Their ages ranged from 6 to 17 years of age. They found that almost 53 percent of these children were overweight or obese ,and 13 percent were pre-diabetic. Almost 1 in 5 of the 670 children (19 percent) presented with metabolic syndrome. The proportion of metabolic syndrome in this population increased with increasing obesity. Of the 65 children who were severely obese, more than two-thirds had already developed metabolic syndrome.
These children were enrolled in the San Antonio Family Assessment of Metabolic Risk Indicators in Youth (SAFARI). All went to the Texas Diabetes Institute for clinical assessments. The adult members of these families had previously participated in genetic testing by researchers at Texas Biomed, which allowed these researchers to rely on a fair amount of family-based information to provide information of heritability for metabolic syndrome.
This group of researchers are seeking to find better ways to prevent or delay metabolic syndrome. According to Duggirala, “Much attention has been devoted to environmental and lifestyle contributors to obesity. But these data provide insights into the complex genetic architecture underlying risk for metabolic disease in these children. Insights gained through a genetic approach may help to tailor effective dietary, physical-activity and other interventions for high-risk young people.”
According to Sharon Fowler, M.P.H., of the Health Science Center, “SAFARI data suggest that if risk-factor screening of high-risk children could be performed by age six, it could provide an opportunity for interventions which might delay or prevent their developing debilitating health conditions later in life.”
Duggirala and colleagues continue their research by conducting further genetic testing to find which genes directly influence the development of metabolic syndrome. In the future, they hope to develop family-based lifestyle alterations for SAFARI participants to prevent development of serious health issues in these young people.
Be sure to read our info page on the Texas Biomedical Research Institute on BioNews Texas