One third of obese children are already showing signs of changes that could lead to full-blown diabetes. The finding sustains doctors' fears that many of today's "baked potato generation" could be falling prey to the disabling disease before they hit their 30s.
It has been recognised for some time that being obese, or even overweight, can greatly increase the chances of diabetes, but authentication is growing that younger patients are at risk. A study, by researchers at Yale University in the US, looked at more than 200 obese children, aged between 5 and 18.
They found that in the 55 aged four to 10, 25% were showing signs of "insulin resistance
This is where cells gradually become less amenable to the effects of the hormone insulin, which reduces blood glucose levels after a meal . People with insulin resistance can go on to develop diabetes, in which blood sugar levels often cannot be brought under control without treatment. The researchers found that even in the 11 to 18 age group, 21% had signs of insulin resistance.
Five of the adolescents had already had the disease, but had no obvious symptoms. Associate Professor of Endocrinology Sonia Caprio, who led the study, said: "Most of the children are at high risk for type II diabetes. "And, if they develop diabetes before the age of 20, they face a lifetime of being at very high risk for complications."
Diabetic complications include early heart disease, eye and kidney disorders. Poor circulation in the legs and feet can also contribute to slow-healing ulcers, which can lead to permanent damage. Currently, this kind of diabetes is often termed "late onset diabetes", as most new cases arise among people in middle age or older.