To the best of our knowledge, the current study is the first study exploring the prevalence of MetS using the IDF criteria among children aged 7-11 years living in the urban areas of China. The prevalence of both MetS and its five individual components were much higher among overweight and obese children than that among normal weight children regardless of criteria.
Data about MetS in children and adolescents are limited. This is partly due to the lack of consensus on the definition of MetS for children. The prevalence varies depending on the criteria applied. The main criteria of MetS used in our study were proposed by the IDF in 2007, which had been used worldwide for comparison of data from different countries [25
]. After IDF issued its MetS definition, the criteria were referenced by many researchers in different countries [25
]. In 2009, Zorzi A et al. reported that the prevalence of MetS in Canadian Tsimshian Nation youth aged 6-18 years was 4.7% with the IDF criteria and it increased to 8.3% when pediatric hypertension norms were applied [27
]. In 2009, Cizmecioglu et al. reported that the prevalence of MetS among 2,491 Turkish school children aged 10-19 years was 2.3% according to IDF's guidelines [29
]. Compared with the above two studies, the prevalence of MetS among Chinese urban children was lower. This can be explained partially by the lower prevalence of obesity among Chinese children. The results from both our study and the previous studies indicated that obesity could increase the risk of developing MetS. In the current study, the prevalence of MetS among obese children was more serious than that among children with normal weight. This finding consisted with another study in Beijing in 2004 [30
]. In 2010, Druet reported that the frequency of IDF-MetS was 8.9% in 300 overweight and obese French children aged 10-16 years old [26
]. In 2010, another cross-sectional study found that the prevalence of MetS identified by IDF definition among 215 overweight/obese Mexican children aged 6-12 years was 6.7% [28
]. The prevalence of MetS among our overweight and obese participants was 3.5% and 2.1% among children aged 10-11 years and less than 10 years, respectively, which was quite near the prevalence of MetS in overweight and obese children reported in the French study [26
] and Mexican study [28
Applying the IDF criteria for the children equal to or above 10 years old may result in underestimate of the real situation; however, the results at least indicated the early onset of MetS in Chinese children. When applying other definitions proposed by Cook et al., de Ferranti et al. and Ohzeki et al., the estimated prevalence of MetS was much higher. With the increasing of childhood obesity in China and the onset of childhood MetS, the prevalence of the MetS and type 2 diabetes may increase rapidly in China. Morrison JA et al. found that for children with MetS, 68.5% would develop adult MetS and 15.6% would develop type 2 diabetes mellitus in 25-30 years later, while the proportion is 24% and 5%, respectively, for children without MetS developing adult MetS and type 2 diabetes mellitus [31
]. The different prevalence of MetS we found may be due to the different prevalence of obesity, of course, we could not rule out the reason of different methodology, for example, enzymatic method was used for HDL-C in our study, but the phosphotungstic acid precipitation method was used for Canadian children. Our results imply that it is urgent for developing countries, especially those undergoing nutritional transition, such as China, to take effective strategies and actions to control and prevent the prevalence of obesity and obesity-related chronic diseases on the onset of the epidemic of obesity.
The age difference in the prevalence of the MetS was found in our study, which is consistent with previous studies. A study of children and adolescents from Iran and Germany found that both Iranian and German younger children aged 6-10 years had lower risk of MetS than their older counterparts aged 10-16 years (1.0% vs. 2.0% for Iranians, 0.1% vs. 0.5% for Germans) [25
]. No association of the prevalence of MetS with mother's education and family's income was found in the current study, which was consistent with another study conducted in a national representative sample of Chinese adolescents [12
]. As known, many factors contribute to the development of MetS and other chronic disease, such as physical activity level, dietary intake, obesity and social-economic status. Some factors relate with each other and this correlation maybe result in no significant association of risk factors with MetS. This may result in the no-significant relationship between MetS and educational/income level of the parents.
The main strength of the current study was the WC cut-off points for defining abdominal obesity which were developed specifically for Chinese children with the national representative samples in 2010 [21
]. Chinese children tend to have lower height and WC at the same age compared with Caucasians due to the ethnic difference in body shape and body composition. Therefore, the definition of central obesity proposed by IDF uses the 90th percentile of WC, rather than cut-off points of WC. The cut-off points of WC employed in our study were developed from a national representative sample (160,225 children and adolescents aged 7-18 years old) and published in 2010. Compared with the other studies which used the cut-off points of WC developed from Caucasian children or non-representative Chinese children to define the MetS among Chinese children, our results seem more valid. There are some limitations in the current study. Firstly, as indicated by the IDF definition, MetS can not be diagnosed for children younger than 10 years old except among children with dyslipidemia, cardiovascular disease, hypertension or obesity. So the interpretation of present results among younger children should be cautiously. The MetS can not be applied to young children. Identifying the cluster of metabolic abnormalities in children may be important for the prevention of chronic diseases in later life, the earlier the better. Secondly, the prevalence of hypertension may be overestimated, because the diagnosis of hypertension was based on the measurements of blood pressure on one occasion, rather than on three different occasions. Finally, the IDF criteria may underestimate the prevalence of MetS because the criteria for hypertension were based on adult cutoff points rather than pediatric specific norms [32
], which were supported when applying different criterion for the definition of the MetS. We presented the prevalence of MetS based on different criterion in order to be comparable with other studies. However, it should be cautious of the methodology differences between studies. Another limitation is that our study represents a group of Chinese children with a relatively high socioeconomic status and findings of this analysis might not be generalizable to other populations.