Childhood Obesity & Future Joint Pains

Author: Courney Erickson-Adams, MD

Although chubby cheeks and round bellies may seem cute on children, there are hazards for kids who consistently carry too much weight. Pediatric obesity can lead to an array of health problems—both in childhood and in the future. Since October 19th is World Pediatric Bone & Joint Day (PB&J Day), it’s a great time to talk about the impact of childhood obesity on joint health—both now and in the future.

Defining childhood obesity

With growing children, it can be difficult to know whether a child’s weight is cause for concern. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one way to determine whether a child is overweight is by calculating body mass index  (BMI), which is a measure of body weight relative to height. The NIH says that the BMI of children is age- and sex-specific and known as the “BMI-for-age.” This type of BMI calculation incorporates growth charts created by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These charts help healthcare professionals track a child’s growth. The charts indicate a percentile to show how a child’s BMI compares with that of other children. The main BMI categories for children and teens are:

  • healthy weight: 5th to 84th percentile
  • overweight: 85th to 94th percentile
  • obese: 95th percentile or higher

Childhood obesity statistics and trends

According to CDC data published in 2017, obesity statistics for children and adolescents reflect a significant and persistent problem in the U.S. For children and adolescents aged 2-19 years:

  • “The prevalence of obesity was 18.5% and affected about 13.7 million children and adolescents.
  • Obesity prevalence was 13.9% among 2- to 5-year-olds, 18.4% among 6- to 11-year-olds, and 20.6% among 12- to 19-year-olds.
  • Childhood obesity is also more common among certain populations. Hispanics (25.8%) and non-Hispanic blacks (22.0%) had higher obesity prevalence than non-Hispanic whites (14.1%).
  • Non-Hispanic Asians (11.0%) had lower obesity prevalence than non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics.”

Unfortunately, childhood obesity continues to trend upward. In a report published in 2018 in the journal Pediatrics, researchers concluded that “Nationally representative data…demonstrates clearly that childhood obesity continues to be a significant concern for the United States. The past 18 years have seen increases in the levels of severe obesity in all ages and populations despite increased attention and efforts across numerous domains of public health and individual care.”

The impact of obesity on joint health

With the additional stress that extra weight places on joints, obesity has the potential to create problems with joint health, which can result in chronic pain. This is true both in childhood and into adulthood, too. Research published in 2014 that focused on the relationship between obesity and musculoskeletal pain in children concluded that “The emerging evidence suggests that being overweight or obese has a significant impact on the health and well-being of these young people and may contribute to ongoing health problems such as musculoskeletal pain and bone/joint dysfunction in later life.”

In addition to joint problems and musculoskeletal discomfort, the CDC notes that additional health issues that may occur secondary to childhood obesity include:

  • High blood pressure and high cholesterol.
  • Increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Breathing problems—such as asthma and sleep apnea.
  • Fatty liver disease, gallstones, and gastro-esophageal reflux.
  • Psychological problems—such as anxiety and depression.
  • Low self-esteem and lower self-reported quality of life.
  • Social problems—such as bullying and stigma.

Steps for prevention and management

If you are concerned that your child may be struggling with childhood obesity, the good news is that there are steps you can take to help. The NIH provides detailed information about how you can help your child build healthy eating, drinking, physical activity, and sleep habits—which will be beneficial for the entire family. To find out more, visit: Helping Your Child Who is Overweight.

If you want more information about the impact of childhood obesity on joint health, our team of experts is here to help. Contact us today.