What is metabolic syndrome, and why are children getting it?

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2013 Apr;1281(1):123-40. doi: 10.1111/nyas.12030. Epub 2013 Jan 28.


Metabolic syndrome comprises a cluster of cardiovascular risk factors (hypertension, altered glucose metabolism, dyslipidemia, and abdominal obesity) that occur in obese children. However, metabolic syndrome can also occur in lean individuals, suggesting that obesity is a marker for the syndrome, not a cause. Metabolic syndrome is difficult to define, due to its nonuniform classification and reliance on hard cutoffs in the evaluation of disorders with non-Gaussian distributions. Defining the syndrome is even more difficult in children, owing to racial and pubertal differences and lack of cardiovascular events. Lipid partitioning among specific fat depots is associated with insulin resistance, which can lead to mitochondrial overload and dysfunctional subcellular energy use and drive the various elements of metabolic syndrome. Multiple environmental factors, in particular a typical Western diet, drive mitochondrial overload, while other changes in Western society, such as stress and sleep deprivation, increase insulin resistance and the propensity for food intake. These culminate in an adverse biochemical phenotype, including development of altered glucose metabolism and early atherogenesis during childhood and early adulthood.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Body Mass Index
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance / physiology
  • Metabolic Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Metabolic Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Metabolic Syndrome / metabolism*
  • Obesity / diagnosis
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Risk Factors


  • Reactive Oxygen Species