MRI sees internal fat that raises adolescents risk of disease

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Recent research has shown that single-slice MRI can be useful in locating internal fat in adolescents that could predispose them to disease later in life, according to a study published in the March issue of Radiology. The measurement of intra-abdominal fat is important because when it is excessive it can put children and teenagers at risk for developing heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses. This is different than what people consider to be regular visible fat, which forms skin folds and other easily visible characteristics on the body.

"Because metabolic abnormalities appear to be more closely associated with intra-abdominal fat tissue, it is critical to be able to reliably and accurately assess this fat tissue in order to identify children at risk," said the study’s lead researcher, Marilyn J. Siegel, MD, professor of radiology and pediatrics at Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo.

The most common ways to measure body fat currently include anthropometry, abdominal height and body mass index, and dual energy absorptiometry (DEXA).

In Siegel’s study, 30 adolescents had fat tissue measurements taken using anthropometry, DEXA and single-slice and whole-abdominal, multi-slice MRI. The study’s 20 boys and 10 girls were between the ages of 10 and 18 and included nine overweight but non-diabetic individuals, 10 Type-2 diabetic and overweight patients, and 11 normal weight, non-diabetic adolescents. The single-slice and multi-slice MRI measurements were compared and tested for correlations with anthropometric and DEXA measurements.

"Single- and multi-slice MRI measurements for assessing body fat distribution strongly correlated with clinical and DEXA measures," Siegel said. "The single-slice MRI, which takes just a few seconds, characterized body fat as well as the multi-slice exam."

Though there was some variance in fat distribution patterns, overall fat volume was highest in the diabetic, overweight adolescents.

Siegel believes that single-slice MRI could be useful in many clinical and research applications, including patient management, monitoring interventions, and implementing multi-center clinical trials or epidemiologic studies.

"Our ability to accurately measure abdominal fat may substantially advance strategies for achieving healthy weights in children," she added.