Obese Hispanic Children at Very High Risk for Pre-Diabetes

Hispanics are one of the highest risk ethnic groups for developing type 2 diabetes, and a large proportion of overweight children might be a main reason why. A recent study has shown that overweight Hispanic children are at an extremely high risk for having pre-diabetes, which leads to increased risk of adult-onset diabetes.

Pre-diabetes is characterized, as is full-blown type 2 diabetes, by insulin resistance and decreased insulin sensitivity, and high blood glucose levels. These levels are not high enough for diagnosis of diabetes, but they are often chronic and progressive, leading to the onset of type 2 diabetes. Many lifestyle choices (dietary habits), and genetic factors (ethnicity, family history), put individuals at risk for pre-diabetes and eventual type 2 diabetes, but having pre-diabetes does not mean full diabetes is inevitable. Type 2 diabetes is known to be highly preventable with proper exercise and nutritional care.

Unfortunately, Hispanics are both at high risk for diabetes genetically and often practice unhealthy lifestyle choices. These observed facts become evident very early in life for Hispanics, and often result in pre-diabetes in young Hispanic individuals.

Tests were done on 128 overweight Hispanic children over a four year period. The tests were primarily focused on type 2 diabetes risk factors, such as body mass index (BMI) and glucose tolerance. It was observed that 13% of these children had “persistent pre-diabetes,” which is much higher than the national average for children (under 5% are believed to have persistent cases of pre-diabetes). The researchers defined “persistent” pre-diabetes as three or more positive pre-diabetes tests over the four year study (which performed one comprehensive test per year).

This more definitive approach for defining pre-diabetes in these high risk children enabled them to observe trends in these individuals. For the persistent pre-diabetic children, increased fat deposits around vital organs (called “visceral fat”) was observed, and decreased pancreatic beta-cell function (beta-cells are responsible for insulin production), was seen. These two observations alone put these children at substantial risk for developing severe future cases of type 2 diabetes, as well as cardiovascular disease. “To better treat at-risk children we need better ways to monitor beta-cell function and visceral fat buildup. Those are tough to measure but are probably the main factors determining who will get type 2 diabetes,” states lead researcher Dr. Michael Goran.

While diagnostic techniques are improving, a true understanding of the physiological development of diabetes in certain groups is often poorly understood. Hispanics are one such group, as they are known to be at high risk, but insufficient knowledge is available for exactly why this is true. Being overweight in childhood for Hispanics is possibly a leading cause for the disproportionate amount of diabetes in the adult population. Hispanics constitute the largest minority group in the United States (35 million and growing), and strong efforts must be made to help raise awareness for the high risk they have for developing diabetes, and that this risk may have its roots in an overweight childhood deficient of exercise and good nutrition.

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Goran, Michael. Lewit, Megan. Diabetes press release. August 2008.