As a parent, you know that life is full of cause-and-effect scenarios: If you don't go to work, then you can't pay the bills. If you ignore that sound the car is making, then you could end up on the side of the road with engine trouble.
Unfortunately, this concept is often a little harder for kids to grasp. They tend to live in the present and don't think too much about long-term consequences. Usually this works out just fine because you are there to offer support and, when necessary, a safety net.
But when it comes to your kids' health, there are some long-term consequences you may not even realize they're up against. One of the best examples of this is a condition called metabolic syndrome.
Not to be confused with metabolic disease (which occurs when hormones and other chemicals in the body fail to interact properly), metabolic syndrome describes a cluster of risk factors that put kids on the road to heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Kids with metabolic syndrome have at least three of these risk factors:
You might be surprised to learn that these are problems kids can have. After all, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are usually things older people grumble about.
Not so anymore. Thanks to the rising obesity epidemic in young people, kids and teens are getting these conditions — and they're getting them earlier than ever before. Some estimates say that nearly 1 in 10 teens — and over a third of obese teens — have metabolic syndrome. And a study of 375 second- and third-graders found that 5% had metabolic syndrome and 45% had one or two risk factors for it.
This is something parents should know about, especially because they can take steps to lessen their kids' chances of developing metabolic syndrome or the risk factors that lead to it.
Because it's a precursor to heart disease and type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome (also called dysmetabolic syndrome or syndrome X) is brought on by the same problems that cause those diseases. So, having a diet that's high in calories and low in nutrients and consuming lots of fast food and sweetened beverages can put kids at risk.
Playing video games for most of the day or sitting in front of the computer and not getting enough (or any) exercise also can increase a child's chance of developing factors like obesity, high LDL ("bad") cholesterol, hypertension, and high blood sugar that define metabolic syndrome.
The risk of developing the condition appears to be highest around puberty. That may be because body fat, blood pressure, and lipids are all affected by the hormones that bring about the many changes of puberty.
Kids who have a family history of heart disease or diabetes are at greater risk for metabolic syndrome. But, as with many things in life, the lifestyle habits a child adopts can push things in one direction or another. So kids who are active, fit, and eat a lot of fruits and vegetables may drastically decrease their chances of developing metabolic syndrome — even if a close relative already has it.
Metabolic syndrome itself often has no noticeable symptoms early on. But when its risk factors are left to snowball for too long, major changes may start to develop in the body, such as:
For a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome, a child must have at least three of the four risk factors. The most common risk factors in teens are hypertension and high LDL cholesterol. However, even when just one risk factor is present, a doctor will likely check for the others. This is especially true if a child is overweight, has a family member with type 2 diabetes, or has acanthosis nigricans.
These exams and tests can help doctors make a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome:
Diagnosing metabolic syndrome in kids and teens can be a little bit like trying to hit a moving target. That's because as kids' bodies change and grow, the cutoff numbers for many of these tests change too. To standardize some of this information, doctors use special charts (a lot like growth charts) to plot where a child's numbers fall according to his or her age, sex, weight, and height. This also helps them follow the child's progression over time.
If your child is diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, it does not necessarily mean that he or she will develop heart disease or diabetes, but the chances are increased — especially if the risk factors involved aren't improved or eliminated.
For some kids, a lifestyle change may be enough to reduce the risk for serious disease. A doctor may recommend:
When lifestyle changes aren't enough, a child may be prescribed medications to treat individual risk factors. So, kids with high blood pressure might be put on antihypertension drugs. Others with high LDL cholesterol might be prescribed statins or other lipid-lowering drugs. Children with high blood sugar, who are on the brink of developing diabetes, may be given medication to decrease insulin resistance.
Although weight-loss drugs that are helpful to adults are still investigational in children, some kids who are morbidly obese (double or more the healthy weight for kids their sex, age, and height) might benefit from these medications.
While bariatric surgery for weight loss is not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in kids, some teens with morbid obesity or those who are obese and have developed heart disease or diabetes may be candidates for the procedure.
Here's a great thing kids can learn about cause-and-effect: they have the power to positively influence many health outcomes. Eating right and staying active are two ways they can help ensure a healthier tomorrow.
Of course, it's easier for kids to make better choices if they see their parents doing the same. So make a plan to help your entire family choose a new, healthier direction. After all, getting a late start on the right path beats staying on the wrong one.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: September 2013
|U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) The FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, our nation's food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.|
|Nemours Health and Prevention Services (NHPS) NHPS works with families and community partners to help kids grow up healthy, with a focus on childhood obesity prevention and emotional and behavioral health during early childhood.|
|Overeaters Anonymous This organization is dedicated to helping people recover from compulsive overeating.|
|ChooseMyPlate.gov ChooseMyPlate.gov provides practical information on how to follow the U.S. government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It includes resources and tools to help families lead healthier lives.|
|American Council on Exercise (ACE) ACE promotes active, healthy lifestyles by setting certification and education standards for fitness instructors and through ongoing public education about the importance of exercise.|
|National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) NDEP is a partnership of the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and more than 200 public and private organizations. Its mission is to improve the treatment and outcomes for people with diabetes, to promote early diagnosis, and to prevent the onset of diabetes.|
|When Blood Sugar Is Too High Too much glucose in the blood can be unhealthy. Learn more about what to do when blood sugar is too high in this article for kids.|
|Metabolic Syndrome Metabolic syndrome is a signal that someone could be on the road to serious health problems. Find out more about it in this article for teens.|
|Healthy Weight: Your Personal Plan Anyone who has tried to lose weight knows it can be a struggle. The best way to lose weight is to focus on making small, specific changes that are easy to stick with in the long run. Use our plan to get there!|
|Overweight and Obesity It's an alarming statistic: 1 out of 3 U.S. kids are considered overweight or obese. Find out how to overcome overweight and obesity in your own family.|
|Diabetes Center Does your child have type 1 or type 2 diabetes? Learn how to manage the disease and keep your child healthy.|
|Diabetes Center Our Diabetes Center provides information and advice for teens about treating and living with diabetes.|
|Can Diabetes Be Prevented? The things you do now could help prevent diabetes later, depending on the type of diabetes. Here's the scoop on diabetes prevention.|
|Can Diabetes Be Prevented? Parents want to protect their kids from everything, which is virtually impossible, of course. But can you prevent your child from getting diabetes?|
|Can Diabetes Be Prevented? Diabetes is a health problem that affects kids of all ages, but you can't catch it like a cold. In some cases, diabetes can be prevented. Find out how.|
|What's Cholesterol? Chances are, you've heard about cholesterol a lot lately, but you might be wondering what it is. Here's your chance to get the lowdown in our article just for kids.|
|When Being Overweight Is a Health Problem A couple of pounds of extra body fat are not a health risk for most people. But when people are severely overweight, it can cause health problems.|
|Diabetes Center Diabetes means a problem with insulin, an important hormone in the body. Find out how children with diabetes can stay healthy and do the normal stuff kids like to do.|
|Hypertension (High Blood Pressure) High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is more common in adults, but it can happen at any age. Learn what it is, how to prevent it, and how to treat it.|
|What Being Overweight Means Being overweight has become a serious problem for many kids and adults. Find out what it means to be overweight in this article just for kids.|
|Cholesterol and Your Child Most parents probably don't think about what cholesterol means for their kids. But high cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease, which has its roots in childhood.|
|High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) High blood pressure, or hypertension, is usually associated with older people. But some kids do have it, and it can be life-threatening if left untreated.|
|Cholesterol Cholesterol is a type of fat found in your blood. The body needs some cholesterol, but too much can be a problem. Discover more about cholesterol in this article for teens.|
|Weight Loss Surgery Weight loss surgery works. But it's serious stuff, both physically and emotionally. Find out about different weight loss surgery options for teens.|
|Acanthosis Nigricans Acanthosis nigricans, or AN, is a darkening and thickening of the skin that can be a sign of certain other medical conditions. Find out more.|
|Acanthosis Nigricans Acanthosis nigricans (AN) is a condition that causes the skin to thicken and darken in places. AN is not harmful or contagious, but can be a sign of certain other medical conditions.|
|Hyperglycemia and Diabetic Ketoacidosis When blood glucose levels (also called blood sugar levels) are too high, it's called hyperglycemia. A major goal in controlling diabetes is to keep blood sugar levels as close to the desired range as possible.|
|About Overweight and Obesity We use the words "oveweight" and "obese" a lot, but they actually have medical meanings. Find out how doctors diagnose these conditions and what they mean for a person's health.|
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