Ground-breaking study to cap the growing trend of type 2 diabetes in overweight adolescents

June 02, 2009

Researchers at The Children's Hospital at Westmead are embarking on a ground-breaking new study to investigate whether a different dietary approach to insulin resistance in overweight adolescents can put the brakes on its progression to type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes affects 85 to 90 per cent of all people with diabetes. While it usually affects mature adults, younger people and children are increasingly being diagnosed. Often people with type 2 diabetes also have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and are overweight or obese.

The MBF Foundation funded the three-year $400,000 project recognising increased medical and community concern about the growing number of overweight children being diagnosed with insulin resistance.

Currently adolescents with insulin resistance are managed through a combination of exercise, diet in line with the Australian Dietary Guidelines and medication, with the aim of preventing or delaying the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Clinicians at The Children's Hospital at Westmead are evaluating two diets, combined with an exercise program, for their effectiveness in turning the risk of this condition around. As a result of a growing body of evidence that amongst adults higher protein diets can more effectively reduce body fat and help control insulin levels, dietitians will investigate whether young people can similarly benefit from a high protein diet.

Dr Christine Bennett, MBF Foundation Steering Committee Chair and Chief Medical Officer of Bupa Australia*, says that one in four young Australians are now overweight or obese** and some of these will go on to develop type 2 diabetes if urgent action is not taken to manage this increasing problem.

"Type 2 diabetes can be difficult to control and needs to be managed effectively. Complications are often present at diagnosis and can lead to heart and kidney disease appear later in life. We can potentially save thousands of adolescents from this serious long term chronic condition," she said.

"We want to give our young people the best possible start to life and find the best way to help them deal with a difficult problem. With early intervention insulin resistance is potentially reversible, or at least the progression to type 2 diabetes can be delayed."

The program will see 108 adolescents aged between 10 and 18 take part in a diet and exercise regime.

Participants will follow one of two diets. The first will be based on the currently recommended Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, which is high in carbohydrates and low in fat. The second will follow a lower carbohydrate and increased protein diet.

"Teen-friendly diet models will be used to enhance compliance with the aim of reducing insulin levels and helping young participants lose weight," said Dr Sarah Garnett Principal Researcher from the Westmead Children's Hospital.

"We believe the project is the first of its kind. There is little evidence currently available to establish the best diet to control insulin resistance in adolescents and the role of protein in the diet,' said Dr Garnett. "This will tell us the advice we can give these kids that will actually work."

The program involves an intensive three month dietary intervention and a three month intensive gym and home based exercise program. The participants will be followed up for six months to measure the program's effectiveness.
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Recruitment for the three year-study is already underway, with the first participants having started their exercise session at Fitness First in Parramatta. There is no cost to families in participating in the fitness program at Fitness First.

About the MBF Foundation

The MBF Foundation is a charitable institution set up by MBF to support and manage important health initiatives for the community using a portion of MBF Group's investment income each year. The Foundation is focussing on three key areas - wellness and obesity, supporting healthy ageing and keeping healthcare affordable.

For more information, or to arrange an interview or images, please contact:

Jackie Crossman or Renea Murphy
Crossman Communications
02 9361 0519 or 0402 218 662

Research Australia

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