When the Young Are Not Young at Heart

Heart disease and diabetes risk factors appear high among young Mexican Americans

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Knowing the signs of diabetes and heart disease can help control these illnesses. Mexican-Americans, especially, may develop these warning signs at a younger age than expected.

Taken as a group, the warning signs of diabetes and heart disease are called metabolic syndrome. They include an increasing buildup of fat around the waist and in the blood, as well as higher than normal blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

Researchers recently found that Mexican-American youth may face more of these warning signs than anticipated for their age.

These researchers believe early screening can help them delay or avoid chronic health problems later in life.

"Get screened for warning signs of heart disease and diabetes."

Ravindranath Duggirala, PhD, a geneticist at Texas BioMedical Research Institute in San Antonio, collaborated on this study with scientists from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and other institutions.

Dr. Duggirala and colleagues recognized that Mexican-American children were often dealing with obesity, prediabetes (blood sugar levels that are higher than normal but not high enough to be called diabetes) and other health problems.

These researchers looked at 670 boys and girls without diabetes, between the ages of 6 and 17 years old. The children came from mainly lower-income extended Mexican-American families. Many adult members in these families were at high risk for diabetes.

This study's results showed that just over half of the children were overweight or obese. About 13 percent had prediabetes.

Almost one in five of these young people had metabolic syndrome. The more they weighed, the more likely they were to have the condition. Of the 65 severely obese young people in the study, over two-thirds had already developed metabolic syndrome.

All of the young participants were enrolled in the San Antonio Family Assessment of Metabolic Risk Indicators in Youth (SAFARI) study. Because adult members of their family had participated in genetic studies led by Texas Biomed, investigators were able to tell that the children may have inherited their metabolic syndrome.

"These data provide insights into the complex genetic architecture underlying risk for metabolic disease in these children," said Dr. Duggirala in a press release. "Insights gained through a genetic approach may help to tailor effective dietary, physical activity and other interventions for high-risk young people."

Co-author of this study Sharon Fowler, MPH, also of the UT Health Science Center, suggested that high-risk children should be screened for risk factors by age 6.

Early screening and intervention could help these children delay or avoid chronic health problems as they get older.

In a statement, Daniel Hale, MD, chief of the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes in the Department of Pediatrics at the Health Science Center and medical director of the SAFARI study, said, "For parents and primary care physicians, it's a good motivating factor to intervene early if you discover that your child is at greater-than-average risk of developing diabetes or cardiovascular disease at an early age."

Currently, Dr. Duggirala and other SAFARI investigators are conducting further genetic testing to determine which specific genes directly affect disease-related risk factors in these children.

This study was published in July in Human Genetics.

The research was funded primarily by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Review Date: 
July 17, 2013
Last Updated:
July 31, 2013