Childhood obesity could cause future joint problems

Self Care, Injury Prevention, Diet and Nutrition, Bone Health

 

 

Caution: A lifetime of joint problems may be ahead

Overweight boy watching tv with a bag f chips and a soda

Did you know 29.5 percent young people between the ages 10 and 17 were overweight or obese in 2016?

All this extra weight may create mobility issues for these children as they become adults.

A recent study in the International Journal of Obesity suggests that children who are overweight not only experience musculoskeletal pain, but they also may have bone and joint dysfunction later in life. However, the cumulative effect of childhood obesity on adult health requires further investigation.

Obesity also causes some immediate conditions that affect the health and well-being of children. 


Illustration of the impact of childhood obesityAccording to an article from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), childhood obesity causes:

  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Asthma and other breathing problems

Carrying too much weight at a young age also affects the health and development of a child’s bones, joints, and muscles. The article continues to describe other conditions caused by too much stress on developing bones and muscles.

Excess weight can stress and damage the growth plates in the child's bones. Growth plates are areas of cartilage-like tissue along the ends of the long bones in the body. During childhood, growth plates regulate and determine the length and the shape of the bones as children grow into adults. Damage to growth plates can cause deformity in the arms and legs.

The stress of too much weight, too early in life, can lead to early onset arthritis. Extra weight places more pressure on the cartilage, which provides a cushion in the joints as bones move against each other. More weight leads to more cartilage wear and damage as the body works to absorb the stress of movement. When the cartilage is damaged early in life, it leads to pain and arthritis at an early age.

Overweight children have an increased fracture risk. The force of a heavier child falling on an outstretched arm or leg is greater than that of a healthy-weight child. The increased stress on the bones often results in a fracture.

Femoral epiphysis is a common condition experienced by teens who carry excess weight. Femoral epiphysis occurs in the hips of teenagers. It happens when the upper ball of the femur slips off the hip’s socket in the backward direction. This painful condition is often associated with weak growth plates.

Being heavy also contributes to Blount’s disease. Named after Walter P. Blount, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, the characteristics of the condition include a bowed position in the legs, which occurs when the growth plates of the tibia are damaged. In the past, Blount’s disease appeared to be related to genetics, but studies have shown that it can be caused by excess weight.

Children who are overweight or obese are also diagnosed with knee discomfort, flat feet, and Achilles tendonitis more often than other children. When immature bones carry too much weight, the joints, muscles, and supporting structures breakdown causing pain, discomfort, and occasionally deformities that can last a lifetime.

Lifelong physical problems are not the only results of carrying too much weight; many children deal with psychological pain.

Overweight children become easy targets for teasing or bullying. Excess weight may cause a lack of coordination. Children may appear clumsy because they are not able to jump, hop, skip, or run as well or as fast as other children. Teasing and taunting can leave psychological scars that last a lifetime.

You can help your child maintain a healthy weight. Encourage healthy lifestyle habits and model healthy behavior.

  • Encourage your children to be active for at least an hour each day. Riding bikes, running, playing ball, and other childhood activities can help your child burn excess calories and strengthen his or her bones.

  • Limit the amount of television, video games, or other types of screen time. Sitting for long periods of time has been shown to be as dangerous to your child's health as smoking.

  • Stock your refrigerator and cupboards with healthy foods. If your child likes to snack before you get home from work, make sure the or she has access to good tasting, nutritious food. Your child won’t be able to grab a soda or a bag of chips if you don't have them in your house. 

  • Teach your children about proper nutrition and calories. Explain that it would take about an hour of walking fast to use the energy supplied by eating a small order of fries.

    Using activities to define and describe the amount of energy particular foods provide is a good way to teach children about calories and making wise, nutritious food choices. Your child may think twice if he or she realizes it would take more than two hours to “walk off” a large ice cream cone. Discussing nutrition can help you talk about weight issues. It also helps your child focus on food rather than their bodies. It may help your child avoid body image issues that often develop in young people. 

If your child struggles with weight issues, contact your pediatrician for an appointment.

 

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