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Youth diabetes on the rise because of obesity, says report

Latino parents should think twice before praising their child for being an adorable gordito, because as a new study released today shows, almost a quarter of American teens has prediabetes or diabetes – primarily due to being overweight or obese.

A new study published today in the June 2012 issue of Pediatrics examined nearly 3,400 adolescents aged 12 to 19 from the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey (using data from 1999-2008) and found that diabetes and prediabetes has shot up to 21 percent among teens. That’s a significant spike from 9 percent just a decade ago.

Researchers examined the prevalence of cardiovascular disease among US adolescents and discovered that a solid 34 percent of US adolescents were overweight or obese and were at increased risk for cardiovascular disease risk factors such as diabetes and prediabetes. Teen rates of abnormal cholesterol and hypertension remained unchanged. Hispanic youth accounted for 16 percent of the study subjects examined and the prevalence of diabetes and prediabetes among that category mirrored general uptick in percentages.

“These findings are very concerning, especially because we found that all overweight and obese youth are at risk for one or more cardiovascular disease risk factors,” said lead author Ashleigh May, an epidemiologist affiliated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Pediatrics report found that approximately half of overweight teens and nearly two-thirds of obese adolescents have one or more risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholesterol. In contrast, researchers found that one-third of normal weight adolescents have at least one risk factor.

With heart disease the number one cause of death among U.S. adults, Dr. May says she hopes that this study will be a step towards a larger body of research on this trend.

“I anticipate that there will be future work about what’s really happening here, if the rates will continue or if the trend will plateau,” says Dr. May. “These are all things we thought we’d see only among adults but the fact that we’re seeing among children is cause for concern. Parents should keep in mind that if we identify these problems early or work to prevent these problems early, then we have an opportunity to help youth avoid negative health consequences that may occur.”

“Unfortunately, I think this report confirms data we already knew about climbing rates of prediabetic and diabeties among Latino children,” says Carmen Román-Shriver, PhD, RD, LD, Associate Professor & Director of Dietetics and Nutrition at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio.  “We are diagnosing more children as prediabetic given their high glucose levels, but since these children aren’t fully diabetic, there’s an opportunity to reverse their risk for cardiovascular disease with healthy eating and physical activity.”

Dr. Román-Shriver notes that parents can help avert these cardiovascular risk factors by promoting a healthy lifestyle, as well as asking their child’s health care provider about weight and cardiovascular screenings.

“Within Latino culture, a gordito is equated as a healthy child, and that’s something we have to change given how diabetes has become such a problem within our community,” explains Dr. Román-Shriver. “We have to remember that diabetes can be a precursor to heart disease – the leading cause of death among Hispanics.”

“The bottom line is that this is an issue Latino parents should be concerned about.”


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