"The risk was about 1.6 times higher for girls than boys," said the study's lead author Joanne S. Harrell, Ph.D., professor of nursing and director of the Center for Research on Chronic Illness at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Nursing.
The metabolic syndrome is a clustering of the cardiovascular disease risk factors high blood pressure, elevated triglycerides, low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL or "good" cholesterol) glucose intolerance, elevated insulin levels and excess body weight. The syndrome puts a person at early risk for diabetes and coronary heart disease.
"These were regular, normal kids, but we found risk factors that are clear danger signs for the future. If nothing is done, a good number of these children could develop type 2 diabetes and heart disease," Harrell said.
The investigators examined 3,203 students (1,679 girls and 1,524 boys), between ages 8 and 17. Each lived in rural North Carolina in a county with no city over 50,000 people. The participants were 47.9 percent white, 42.4 percent African American and 9.7 percent other races.
"We chose to study children in rural schools with a high minority population because rural children have slightly higher rates of obesity than urban children, and type 2 diabetes is more common in minorities," Harrell said.
Each child was evaluated for body mass index, blood pressure, two types of lipids (fats) in the blood, and two indicators of how well the body processes glucose. The students will be followed for three to four years; today's report is based on the initial testing.
Overall, more than half of the children (58.3 percent) had at least one of the six metabolic syndrome risk factors, 27.4
Contact: Carole Bullock
American Heart Association