Kid’s Grip Strength Gives Clues About Future Health, Including Diabetes

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By : Suvarna Sheth

A Baylor University study finds measuring hand grip can help identify kids who could benefit from lifestyle changes in order to prevent cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, including diabetes.

An estimated 17.2 percent of U.S. children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 years are obese and another 16.2 percent are overweight, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Excess weight carries a greater lifetime risk of diabetes and premature heart disease.

Because of the prevalence of obesity, more and more kids are more at risk for developing pre-diabetes and cardiovascular disease than previous generations.

Using the norms for grip strengths in boys and girls, researchers measured the students’ grips in their dominant and non-dominant hands with an instrument called a handgrip dynamometer. Students were first assessed in the fall of their fourth-grade year and at the end of the fifth grade.

It was found that initially, 27.9 percent of the boys and 20.1 percent of the girls were classified as weak. Over the course of the study, boys and girls with weak grips were more than three times as likely to decline in health or maintain poor health as those who were strong.

“This study gives multiple snapshots over time that provide more insight about grip strength and future risks for developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” says Dr. Paul M. Gordon, senior author of the study in a press release.

“Low grip strength could be used to predict cardiometabolic risk and to identify adolescents who would benefit from lifestyle changes to improve muscular fitness.”

Researchers also screened for and analyzed other metabolic risk factor indicators, including physical activity, cardiorespiratory fitness, body composition, blood pressure, family history, fasting blood lipids and glucose levels.

“Even after taking into account other factors like cardiorespiratory fitness, physical activity, and lean body mass, we continue to see an independent association between grip strength and both cardiometabolic health maintenance and health improvements,” Gordon reports.

While much emphasis has been placed on the benefits of a nutritious diet and aerobic activity, this study suggests that greater emphasis needs to be placed on improving and maintaining muscular strength during adolescence.

If someone with a strong grip develops an even stronger grip, we don’t necessarily see a drastic improvement in that individual’s health. “It’s the low strength that puts you at risk.,” Gordon notes.

Gordon points out that testing grip strength is simple, non-invasive and can easily be done in a health care professional’s office.

The study was conducted by researchers at Baylor University, the University of Michigan and the University of New England is published in the Journal of Pediatrics.