Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

Research Article

Body fat measurements in children as predictors for the metabolic syndrome: focus on waist circumference

H. David McCarthya1

a1 Institute for Health Research & Policy, London Metropolitan University, Holloway Road, London N7 8DB, UK

Abstract

The global epidemic of obesity in children will see a rise in the number of cases of metabolic syndrome, which is a clustering of CVD risk factors, including atherogenic levels of blood lipids, hyperinsulinaemia and raised blood pressure. Rather than excess general fatness (assessed by BMI), more specifically it is excess abdominal fatness, quantified by waist circumference measurement, which is a better measure of risk for these metabolic abnormalities in children of all ages. Insulin resistance, a consequence of excess visceral fat, is understood to be the driving force underpinning the metabolic syndrome. Consequently, assessment of abdominal fatness in children is proving to be more clinically useful. Waist circumference centile charts have now been developed for the UK and other paediatric populations to assist in this process. Furthermore, studies in the UK and elsewhere have shown that abdominal fatness has increased in infants, children and adolescents to a greater extent than overall fatness over the past 10–20 years, suggesting that obesity prevalence may be underestimated when based entirely on BMI. Additionally, ethnic differences in fat distribution have been demonstrated in children, with those from south Asian backgrounds having a greater abdominal distribution compared with Caucasian children and consequently having a much greater risk for type 2 diabetes. The information that can be provided by waist circumference measurement in children, as in adults, together with the recent changes in body fat distribution should provide the impetus for its measurement to be standardised and routinely taken in clinical and epidemiological settings.

Correspondence:

c1 Corresponding author: Dr H. David McCarthy, fax +44 20 7684 7738, email d.mccarthy@londonmet.ac.uk