Measuring children's waist circumference may be the best way to predict their risk later on for diabetes and cardiovascular disease, a study finds.
Researchers compared different testing methods for body composition among a group of 2,188 Australians who were followed for an average 20 years from childhood. Initial tests were done when the study participants were between the ages of 7 and 15 and included calculating body mass index (a measurement of height and weight), measuring waist and hip circumferences and doing skin-fold measures.
As adults the participants were given health tests for metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors that includes excess abdominal fat, plus high blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol, and can up the chances of diabetes and heart disease.
Although all tests were good indicators of metabolic health, waist circumference was the best predictor (in a smaller set of female test subjects, skin-fold measurement was the strongest forecaster of metabolic syndrome).
Those whose waist circumferences were in the top 25% for their gender and childhood age were five to six times more likely to have metabolic syndrome at ages 26 to 36 than those with waist circumferences in the bottom 25%.
Lead study author Michael Schmidt, assistant professor in the department of kinesiology at the University of Georgia, said that while measuring children's waists in school may stigmatize them, it still may be the best way to identify children at risk.
"I think parents would want to know if their child was five to six times more likely to have early cardio-metabolic health problems," he said in a news release. "The study shows that the increased rates of obesity in contemporary children are going to have long-term consequences. We can expect that the children of today will have higher rates of diabetes and early cardiovascular disease and that these problems will begin earlier in life."
The study was published online recently in the International Journal of Obesity.
-Jeannine Stein / Los Angeles Times