Children and adolescents who are overweight are more likely than their normal weight counterparts to suffer bone fractures and have joint and muscle pains, according to a new study from NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Overweight youth in the study were also more likely to develop changes in the knee joint that make movement more difficult.
A total of 355 children and adolescents were classified as overweight (227) or non-overweight (128). The children had a physical examination and answered questions about whether they had any joint, bone or muscle-related problems. They were also asked about the impact their weight had on their quality of life, such as whether they have trouble using stairs, feel clumsy or awkward, or have trouble getting up from chairs. In addition, the researchers used a technique called Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DXA) to detect any effects of being overweight on the feet, ankles and knees.
Bone fractures and muscle and joint pain were more common in the overweight youth. Their most common joint complaint was knee pain. They were more likely to report mobility problems as well. DXA scans showed that overweight youth were also more likely to have changes in how the bones of the thigh and leg meet at their knees.
The researchers noted that, while overweight children and adults tend to have stronger bones than their non-overweight counterparts, that didn’t protect those in the study from bone fractures. This may be because someone who’s overweight can fall with greater force. Other studies have suggested that overweight boys also have poorer balance, and so are more likely to fall.
“Bone, muscle and joint problems are particularly troubling in this age group,” NIH Director Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni said. “If overweight youth fail to attain normal weight, they will likely experience an even greater incidence of these problems when they reach later life.”