Nearly one of four Latino children in the United States is overweight, and the problem is worsening. Increasing obesity rates parallel the growing incidence of pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes in overweight teens. Now researchers report in the November issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that high sugar intake during childhood may play a key role in the development of diabetes in this vulnerable population.
"If left untreated, overweight and poor diet among these children could have disastrous consequences for minority health and the health-care costs for future generations," says Michael I. Goran, Ph.D., professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School, associate director of the USC Institute for Prevention Research and the study's senior author.
The Keck School research team, which is conducting the Study of Latinos at Risk (SOLAR) Diabetes Project, examined 63 overweight Latino children in Los Angeles ages 9 to 13 who are participating in SOLAR and do not have diabetes.
Dietitians determined children's everyday dietary habits by using three-day records that tracked children's food-and-drink intake. Then children were admitted overnight to the USC General Clinical Research Center, where they were given a standard dinner and evening snack. The next day, researchers took blood samples from children before and after giving them glucose (sugar). They then tested the blood for levels of insulin.
As Goran explains, beta cells in the pancreas create the hormone insulin in response to sugar from food. Cells in the body's tissues need sugar, or glucose, for energy; insulin helps cells grab and take up glucose circulating in the blood.