Changing our future: obesity and the metabolic syndrome in children and adolescents

Joanne S Harrell, Ann Jessup, Natasha Greene
Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing 2006, 21 (4): 322-30
Obesity, or overweight, in childhood is a major risk factor for the metabolic syndrome in adolescence, as the prevalence in US children tripled between 1970 and 2000. An increase in the metabolic syndrome in youth has followed this increase. In population-based studies, the prevalence of the syndrome ranged from 3.6% to 4.2%. In smaller studies with many overweight youth, the prevalence was 28.7% to 39.7% in those who were overweight and 49.7% in those who were severely obese. Overweight children are likely to have hyperinsulinemia, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, high triglycerides, and hypertension, which are components of the metabolic syndrome. Nurses have an important role in screening for these metabolic syndrome components. Screening is especially important in boys and girls who are overweight and in girls with early menarche. A problem when screening children and adolescents is determining normative values, but guidelines are available. Prevention and management of the metabolic syndrome are not specific to the syndrome, but rather should be focused on the underlying problem of overweight and related problems that comprise the syndrome. We must use all avenues available to us, including influencing public and school policies, and pay close attention to overweight and metabolic syndrome components in our clinical practice, whether with children or adults. Preventing and managing the metabolic syndrome should be a family matter, and the necessary lifestyle changes will benefit the entire family.

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