A million children at risk of heart disease and diabetes because of “hidden fat” suggests study

A million children at risk of heart disease and diabetes because of “hidden fat” suggests study

Research from London Metropolitan University indicates that an estimated one million children in the UK could be carrying too much fat around their inner organs, which may result in an increase in diabetes, heart disease and obesity in later life.

Professor David McCarthy, who led the study, said that many children are classified as healthy using the World Health Organisation’s BMI rating chart, yet they could be missing an underlying problem.

The BMI chart relies on the ratio of height to weight distribution, measuring only build and subcutaneous fat levels. Yet McCarthy suggests that visceral fat levels (fatty tissue surrounding internal organs) could still be high in an ordinarily slim-looking child.

The study measured 1,000 children using a Tanita bioelectrical impedance machine, which measures fat, muscle, bone and water weight by passing a low electrical current through the body. The results found that 15% of the children originally classed within the “healthy” range of the BMI scale were found to have high levels of visceral fat; conversely, one in 10 children classed as “overweight” using the same scale actually had a healthy distribution of fats and muscle.

When presented with the evidence, Dr Ann Hoskins, director of children, young people and families at Public Health England said: “We have to look at the totality of evidence, which concludes the BMI Centile is the most suitable indicator of body fat and overall weight in childhood.”

Described as “tofi” children (thin on the outside, fat on the inside), academics are concerned that schools are unable to correctly identify unhealthy children. Prof McCarthy said: “This matters because the more fat you have, compared to muscle, the more likely you are to develop type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease in later life. If they maintain their body composition in adulthood, or it gets worse, they are going to be at risk of these diseases.”

Scanning units in schools

Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum has called for scanning units to be regularly used in schools in conjunction with the BMI chart: “We need to see inside children with sophisticated scientific equipment to find hidden fat – otherwise we are failing to address a growing problem.”