“They are more affected,” said Alamian, a professor in ETSU’s College of Public Health.
To understand why, Alamian and a group of researchers at ETSU are studying children who come to well-child visits at the Johnson City Community Health Center. Their work is funded by a grant from the Tennessee Board of Regents.
One-third of the children in the U.S. between the ages of 2 to 19 are overweight or obese, Alamian said, which puts them at risk for future health problems. Among the general adult population, about 30 percent are considered obese, while among Hispanics the rate is 40 percent.
Alamian had studied obesity and its risk factors before moving from Canada to Johnson City four and a half years ago, and has always had interest in the topic.
“When I moved here I met Dr. JoAnn Marrs, she’s a nurse practitioner at the Johnson City Community Health Center, and she told me she had seen Hispanic children who have high levels of body fats, unusually high. She said, ‘Are you interested in working on metabolic syndrome?’ I said sure, and we started meeting in a very small group of four people.”
A person who has metabolic syndrome has at least three of the following five risk factors for heart disease. Two of the risk factors are high blood pressure and too much weight around the waistline (obesity).The third and fourth risk factors have to do with fats that are moving in the body; triglycerides are the bad fats, and high density lipoprotein (HDL) are the good fats. People with this syndrome will have high triglycerides and low HDL levels. Finally, the fifth risk factor is having too muchsugar in the blood.
"I would like to encourage the Hispanic community to bring their children to the center and participate in the study."
– Dr. Arsham Alamian
“In the adult population, one of every three adults in the U.S. has this syndrome. However, Hispanics are even more affected and we want to know why,” said Alamian.
Alamian and the research group started meeting regularly about three years ago. He also leads the Metabolic Syndrome Working Group, which meets each month at the Johnson City Community Health Center. There are 20 to 30 people on the invitation list of this group, and the list keeps growing.
“I’m inviting the ETSU faculty, students and the community to try to understand this issue of metabolic syndrom and obesity in general,” he said.
An unhealthy diet is one of the risk factors for obesity, and another is not getting enough exercice. In metabolic syndrome, the body becomes unable to use insulin, the hormone that controls sugar in the blood, so the level of sugar in the blood goes up, Alamian said.
Alamian and his team are working with Hispanic children between the ages of 2 to 10. This age group was selected because the researchers are looking at preventing future health problems.
Among children who come for their well-child visits at the Johnson City Community Health Center, about 60 to 70 percent are Hispanic.
“It’s a good oportunity to interview the children and their parents. Basically they come in for the visit, we have a research personnel who approches them and introduces the study, and those who provide consent are included in the study,” Alamian explained.
The children undergo a series of tests – body measurement, height, weight, waist circumference, blood pressure, plus give two blood samples – to help the team analyze the fats and sugar levels in the body.
Researchers also give participants a survey about the children’s physical activity, nutrition and other health habits. They ask other questions about the family, since some social factors may indirectly contribute to obesity.
The parents are asked questions that will give researchers more details about what the children eat and what can be done about it.
Alamian believes the study will be helpful. The answers to questionnaires, blood samples and tests will help show how much of the Hispanic population is affected by metabolic syndrome, how they are affected, and what might be causing this condition.
Taking part in the study involves about 60 minutes of a patient’s time. It is free and voluntary, and children get a toy and results of the tests.
Those found at risk for metabolic syndrome will be monitored by the practitioner at the center or referred to other specialists or dieteticians. “Right now we are almost half through, and we are aiming to enroll 150 children,” Alamian said.
“I would like to encourage the Hispanic community to bring their children to the center and participate in the study,” he said.
The study team includes a nutritionist, two basic scientists and a biostatistician, each of whom brings their own expertise.
“If you have children between these ages, please participate,” Alamian said. “This is to help them improve their own health.”
En español: Los niños latinos tienen más riesgo de obesidad