Researchers at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California found that overweight Latino children who consumed more sugar in their everyday diet showed signs of decreased beta cell function.
Beta cells, found in the pancreas, create the hormone insulin in response to sugar from food. Overworked beta cells start to function less effectively, which may result in the accumulation of sugar in the blood stream that characterizes type 2 diabetes, said the researchers.
The study, which examined 63 overweight Latino children aged 9 to 13, found that around 40 percent of the sugar in their diet came from sugary drinks, such as soda or sweetened juices, with the children consuming an average of 1.5 cans of soda every day.
"If left untreated, overweight and poor diet among these children could have disastrous consequences for minority health and the health-care costs for future generations," said Michael Goran, professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School.
The study, published in this month's issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, follows previous research by the group, which found that Latino children are more likely to be insulin-resistant than white children, regardless of their body weight- a finding most likely linked to genetic issues.
"Clearly, this is a group that faces a higher risk for metabolic problems. But findings suggest that even modest reductions in sugar intake might preserve beta cell function and prevent metabolic disorders in these children. Public health among Latinos may benefit from interventions to reduce simple-sugar consumption," said Jaimie Davis, the study's lead author.
Indeed, a survey by the Natural Marketing Institute, last year found that Hispanics believe themselves to be much more deficient in nutritional ingredients than other US populations.
For example, around a fifth of them thought they were lacking in calcium, compared to just over a third of other individuals, and almost double the number of them thought they were lacking in protein compared to the rest of the US population.
This is where supplement and functional food makers could step in - as some have done already - and create products to address the health concerns of this population.
Food makers, who have already started to tap into this market include Kefir maker Lifeway Foods that launched La Fruta drinkable yogurt product line, PepsiCo-owned SoBe with Fuerte, a mango and passionfruit beverage with herbal extracts under its Powerline range and Mott's that launched Clamato Energia an energy drink for the Hispanic consumer.
Moreover, this is a growing market. According to a report entitled "Hispanics and Food" by Mintel, the US Hispanic population grew by 67.5 percent between 1990 and 2002, compared to 8.1 percent for the non-Hispanic population, with the population now standing at 38.8 million. "If the current rate were to continue, Hispanics would make up nearly one out of five US residents by 2012," said the survey.