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FALL 2002

Researchers Find Link Between Obesity and Diabetes in Children

As the rates of childhood obesity in the U.S. continue to climb, so too does the prevalence of type 2 diabetes among children and adolescents. Researchers at the Children’s Clinical Research Center at the Yale University School of Medicine found that many of the overweight children and adolescents they studied showed impaired glucose tolerance, a known risk factor for type 2 diabetes in adults.

The researchers recruited 55 children aged 4 to 10 and 112 adolescents aged 11 to 18; 58 percent were white, 23 percent black, and 19 percent Hispanic. All participants had body-mass indexes (BMI) above the 95th percentile for their age and gender and were classified as obese (the Federal government does not have a definition of obesity for children, and considers those above the 95th percentile to be overweight). The researchers tested the youngsters’ blood glucose levels after a 12-hour fast and again after administering oral glucose. They found impaired glucose tolerance in 25 percent of the children and 21 percent of the adolescents, and asymptomatic, or “silent,” diabetes in four adolescents.

"...intensive efforts to reduce obesity in children and youth who have impaired glucose tolerance will help to prevent their developing type 2 diabetes."

“Impaired glucose tolerance is highly prevalent among children and adolescents with severe obesity, irrespective of ethnic group,” the researchers concluded. Adolescent boys and girls showed similar rates of impaired glucose tolerance, whereas in children more girls than boys had the problem.

“These results strongly imply that intensive efforts to reduce obesity in children and youth who have impaired glucose tolerance will help to prevent their developing type 2 diabetes,” said Duane Alexander, M.D., director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). Since children who develop diabetes at a young age may begin to develop complications as early as young adulthood, early intervention is a high research priority.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) is planning further research into the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes in children, with clinical trials scheduled to begin next year.

This study was funded by NICHD and the National Center for Research Resources, both of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The full article appears in the March 14, 2002 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, and can be accessed at s

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