Increased risk of diabetes in obese children through adipose tissue alteration

Overweight and obese children have already from the age of six years on pathological changes in the adipose tissue.

This was shown in studies of the Integrated Research and Treatment Center (IFB) AdiposityDiseases in children and adolescents aged between 0 and 18 years at the Clinic for Children and Adolescents at the University Hospital Leipzig. For the first time it could be shown in children that such adipose tissue alterations are already related to an incipient insulin resistance. This is a sugar metabolic disorder and a precursor of type-2-diabetes. The study results highlight the importance of early prevention of overweight for children's health. The results appeared in November (2014) in the scientific journal Diabetes of the American Diabetes Association.

The working group of Professor Antje Körner examined in a research project of the IFB adipose tissue of lean and obese boys and girls up to 18 years for signs of morbid changes. Already six-year-olds with overweight show significant alterations that may indicate an unhealthy development. Thus, overweight children and adolescents have in comparison to lean ones almost twice as many fat cells which are in addition significantly larger. With an increasing fat mass and fat cell size in overweight children more macrophages (immune defence cells) can be found in the adipose tissue. These cells recognize diseased and dead cells in the tissue and eliminate them. The researchers see their increased presence as evidence of an on-going inflammation in the adipose tissue of obese children and adolescents.

Moreover, the formation of transmitters from the fat cells is modified. These include for example the adipose tissue hormones leptin and adiponectin, which e.g. affect the appetite and metabolism. Altered levels of these hormones in the blood are seen already in overweight young study participants. They are regarded as signals for a morbid change in metabolism. The altered dysfunctional adipose tissue contributes already to the appearance of first consequences of obesity in childhood.

Professor Antje Körner emphasizes: „ These results underline the need to start preventive measures fostering a healthy weight development very early e.g. in kindergarten, since first alterations in adipose tissue and associated negative effects on metabolism start already in six-year-olds.”

Kathrin Landgraf, Denise Rockstroh, Isabel V. Wagner, Sebastian Weise, Roy Tauscher, Julian T. Schwartze, Dennis Löffler, Ulf Bühligen, Magdalena Wojan, Holger Till, Jürgen Kratzsch, Wieland Kiess, Matthias Blüher, Antje Körner: Evidence of early alterations in adipose tissue biology and function and its association with obesity-related inflammation and insulin resistance in children. Diabetes. 2014 Nov 12. PMID: 25392242  [Epub ahead of print]