Health conditions that were once almost exclusively associated with the elderly are now being increasingly diagnosed in children, according to a new report, which calls for immediate dietary intervention.
Published in the December issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, the review focuses on the increasing prevalence of metabolic syndrome, a state characterised by cardiovascular risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure and abnormal levels of glucose and fats in the blood.
This cluster of diseases has in recent years become a growing concern in the US, as unhealthy diets and lack of exercise start to produce their affects.
A rise in risk factors
“Unfortunately, as the population becomes less active and more obese, we’re seeing a rise in this constellation of risk factors for cardiovascular disease. That’s of great concern because of the increased risk for heart attack, stroke and diabetes, and we’re seeing this occur in younger and younger individuals,” said Dr Ruth Weinstock, author of the review and chief of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York.
Weinstock and her colleagues add their voices to the mounting calls for physicians and public institutions to work together to curb the obesity epidemic.
“Increase of heart disease and stroke is of particular concern. If that tide can be reversed, then hopefully we can make an impact in terms of improving public health in the future,” they said.
Definitions of metabolic syndrome
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 Organisation (WHO) 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.
Last year, 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 percent of the adult population, according to the IDF.
But there are clearer figures for diabetes and heart disease, the world's number one killer, according to WHO.
And it is widely agreed that prevention of the syndrome, or its different elements, should be through nutrition.
Steps in combating the problem
The obesity epidemic has been making headlines for years, and steps have been made to address the problem, particularly when it comes to children.
Nutrition criteria have been established for school meals, and restrictions implemented on the types of foods sold in schools, as well as the types of advertisements targeting children.
But according to Weinstock, more needs to be done, including further research on how to prevent metabolic syndrome. Physicians agree that treatment should be aggressive and urge patients to modify their lifestyles to include weight loss, physical activity and a healthy diet, she said.
Another important component is informing the public that becoming obese can bring serious health problems. Ultimately, helping prevent people from becoming obese is the top goal for physicians and other health officials, especially because maintaining weight loss is the toughest challenge for people who are obese, she added. - (Decision News Media, December 2006)
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