Studies have shown Mexican-American children are at high risk for diabetes, but now a new study by the Texas Biomedical Research Institute and the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio shows risk factors are even higher than once thought.
The study screened 670 healthy boys and girls between the age of 6 and 17 from Mexican-American families.
According to lead researcher Dr. Ravindranath Duggirala, a Texas Biomed geneticist, the study, which took place over a four-year period, gave a cross-section of a good portion of the population in San Antonio.
It showed nearly one in five children showed signs of being at risk for diabetes and heart disease.
Risk factors include increased fat around the waist, elevated blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Of the children tested, 53 percent were overweight or obese, increasing their risk factor, but even seemingly healthy children tested poorly, suggesting the cause was genetic.
"I was very surprised. I kept thinking the data had been messed up for a child that looked, really, pretty healthy (and who) was playing basketball, (but we) wouldn't have guessed that they would have so many risk factors for heart disease and diabetes," said Dr. Jane Lynch, UT Health Science Center professor of pediatrics.
Since both genetic and environmental factors play a role, doctors suggest parents take active steps to help prevent or delay the onset of disease.
That includes encourage children to exercise and eat healthy.
They also suggest parents have children tested for metabolic syndrome starting at an early age.
"There are some screenings that can be done at 3 years old, and the earlier the better," said Lynch.
Since doctors don't routinely test children for metabolic syndrome, researchers suggest parents talk to their doctors about having the tests done.