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Childhood obesity and orthopaedics – understanding their connection and moving toward healthier growth

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, the past 20 years has seen a dramatic increase in the number of children, adolescents and adults diagnosed as being overweight or obese.

Currently, approximately 32% of American children and adolescents, between the ages of 2 to 19, are considered overweight or obese.

“Overweight” and “obese” are labels for weight ranges that exceed what is considered healthy for a given height. These weight ranges are identified through the body mass index (BMI). Children and adolescents with a BMI between, at, or above the 85th percentile, and lower than the 95th percentile, are considered overweight. Those with a BMI greater than the 95th percentile are considered obese.

Obesity can cause many health and social problems that can continue and intensify throughout life including: serious orthopaedic conditions, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, metabolic syndrome, obstructive sleep apnea, low self-esteem and depression.

Bone growth and overall musculoskeletal health can be adversely affected by excess weight through vitamin deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, and increased stress and tension on the musculoskeletal system. The results can include deformities, pain, limited lifetime mobility and an overall diminished quality of life.

Childhood obesity is frequently considered to be the result of eating too many calories and not getting enough physical activity. A combination of genetics, activity level, diet, and the environment in which a child lives and plays can contribute to a child’s weight. For example, if a child has one obese biological parent, the odds are roughly 3:1 that the child will have a BMI in the obese range. Factors influencing childhood obesity include:

    • Greater availability of less healthy foods and sugary drinks
    • Advertising of less healthy foods
    • Lack of daily, quality physical activity in schools
    • Lack of safe and appealing community places to play or be active
    • Limited access to healthy, affordable foods
    • Increasing portion sizes
    • Lack of breastfeeding support
    • Greater exposure to television and media

Obese or overweight children are more likely to have:

      • High blood pressure and/or high cholesterol
      • Increased risk of impaired glucose tolerance
      • Liver disease, gallstones and gastro-esophageal reflux
      • Breathing problems such as sleep apnea and asthma
      • A greater risk of social and psychological problems
      • Hypothyroidism
      • Conditions affecting musculoskeletal development and health

Bones grow in size and strength during childhood. For the obese or overweight child, excess weight can damage the growth plate — the area of developing cartilage tissue at the end of the body’s arms, legs and other long bones. Too much weight can also seriously impact the growth and health of bones, joints, and muscles leading to:

      • Early arthritis
      • Serious orthopaedic disorders of the adolescent hip
      • Severe bowing of the legs
      • Fractures and Related Complications
      • Flat Feet
      • Impaired Mobility
      • Anesthesia and Other Surgical/Treatment Complications

A diet rich in calcium and other nutrients, along with regular, physical activity — at least 35 to 60 minutes a day-can help to minimize weight gain, while helping to build and maintain strong bones. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the best way for parents to help their children is to lead by example. Establish healthy eating habits, lifestyle changes and encourage fun physical activities. By setting realistic weight and exercise goals, you can help your child maintain a positive body image and high self-esteem.

At Greater Rochester Orthopaedics, we are ready to apply our skills in providing a range of treatment options to provide the best outcomes for obese or overweight children with orthopaedic conditions. The skill and compassion afforded by our staff and our experience in managing childhood musculoskeletal conditions can meet the needs of your child. We prefer to have your child’s weight managed before it manifests itself in serious orthopaedic or other health related conditions. However, if that time comes, we are ready to help you and your child.