"Abdominal obesity is an important estimate of risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes," Roy says. In adults, waist circumference more than 39.8 inches for men and 34.3 inches for women is considered a predictor of chronic diseases.
There are no clear guidelines, however, for waist circumference measurements in children. Yet, risk factors for chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes tend to cluster together in both children and adults, Roy points out.
Dr. Claude Bouchard from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center together with researchers from the Bogalusa (Louisiana) Heart Study analyzed data collected over several years in Bogalusa to develop an optimal waist circumference for children and adolescents for predicting heart disease risk.
The Bogalusa Heart Study was conducted from 1973 to 1994. A total of 2,597 children from 5 to 18 years of age were assessed for BMI and various lipid measurements to assess cardiovascular risk. Risk factors that are often seen in patients leading to heart disease are low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, high low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, high triglyceride level, high glucose level, high insulin level and high blood pressure.
The prevalence of overweight in the children varied from 29 percent to 33 percent based on Centers for Disease Control growth charts. The percentage of participants classified as having an elevated risk factor profile (those having more than three risk factors) were 18.2 percent for white males, 17.3 percent for black males, 16.5 percent for white females and 16.65 percent for black females.
The waist circumference at age 10 years generated from this research to predict risk factors for heart disease at later life were 25.1 inches for white males, 24 inches for black males, 24.7 inches for white females and 24.2 inches for black females. At age 15 years the measurements were 30.4 inches for white males, 28.8 inches for black males, 27.8 inches for white females and 27.9 inches for black females.
Based on this study and studies by others, Roy says waist circumference can be used to evaluate the presence of elevated cardiovascular risk factors in children. In some studies, waist circumference was a better predictor of cardiovascular disease than BMI, she notes.
"With the tremendous increase in obesity in children, convenient and less costly methods are needed to assess risk factors in children," the LSU AgCenter nutritionist says.
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