By Chad E. Aarons, MD, MPT
There are a number of issues caused by childhood obesity. Many people know that obesity causes problems like high blood pressure and diabetes and others know that obesity can lead to arthritis however did you know that obese children can have problems because of the effect of weight on their growing joints and bones?
Increased weight places stress on the growth plates at the ends of the bones which can alter growth. Due to increasing rates of childhood obesity, problems such as Blount’s disease and slipped capital femoral epiphysis (SCFE), may become more common.
Obesity Rates in Children
The number of overweight and obese children and adolescents has tripled over the past 20 years in the United States.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that one-third (32 percent) of children ages 2 to 19 are overweight or obese. Overweight is defined as a body mass index in the 85th to 95th percentile for a child’s age and height, and obesity is defined as a BMI greater than or equal to the 95th percentile. BMI is interpreted differently for children and teens even though it is calculated the same. Because there are changes in weight and height with age, as well as their relation to body fatness, BMI levels among children and teens need to be expressed relative to other children of the same sex and age. These percentiles are calculated from the CDC growth charts, which were based on national survey data collected from 1963-65 to 1988-94.
One condition that impacts joints in children is Blount’s disease, a disorder of the growth plate of the tibia (shin bone). The growth plate is located at the upper end of the tibia at the knee joint and is made of cartilage. Too much stress on the growth plate causes one side to grower slower or even stop. This causes the legs to grow in a bow-legged shape which can make activities as simple as walking difficult. Treatment includes bracing and surgeries to straighten the bones.
Another condition that has impacted a growing number of children is SCFE or Slipped Capital Femoral Epiphysis. In this condition a weakened growth plate causes the upper end of the femur (thigh bone) to slip backward in the hip joint. Although the incidence for SCFE is 10.8 cases per 100,000 children, the rate is higher among obese children.
Treatment involves surgery to fix the joint with screws in order to prevent further slippage. In severe cases, hip replacement or fusion may be needed. Children with SCFE are at greater risk of developing arthritis as adults.
Other Problems Obesity Causes in Children
Obese children are also at a greater risk for:
- Joint pain
- Back pain
- High blood pressure
- Breathing problems
Healthy Changes to Help Your Child
As a parent, you can help your children improve their health by providing nutritional foods, eliminating soda, juices and other sweets, and encouraging activity.
Be sure to start slow and introduce change gradually. Make these changes a family affair, and join your child in adopting healthy behaviors.
If your child is at risk of being overweight or complains of joint pain, or if you would like assistance in making healthy lifestyle changes for your family, contact Tuckahoe Orthopaedics for an appointment.