Increasing numbers of children are being affected with obesity at a very young age. This disorder causes excessive wear and tear on the main weight-bearing joints of the body in children, especially the knee, foot and hip joints. It is important for children to maintain healthy body weight to avoid these and other disabling complications.

What is Obesity?

Obesity is a condition in which the person’s weight is deemed to be abnormally above the healthy weight limits. Body Mass Index (BMI) is the ratio of height to weight in a person and is useful for calculating the healthy weight range for a person of according to their height.

Obesity is also known as being overweight and childhood obesity is determined when the child has a BMI of, or around, 85% or lower than 95%. Obesity is considered to be when the child has a BMI of more than 95%.

What are the causes of Childhood Obesity?

Normally, obesity is said to be related to having excessive amount of calories with insufficient amount of exercise. However, the actual cause for childhood obesity is much more complex and is often a combination of genes, level of activity, diet as well as the childhood environment.

A child is more likely to be obese if one of the parents also suffers from obesity. These are certain environmental factors that can contribute towards the development of childhood obesity:

  • Prevalence of an unhealthy and ‘fast food’ diet involving sugar-drinks.
  • Promotion of fast (junk) food.
  • Insufficient/no physical activities in schools.
  • Increased sizes of portions.
  • Lack of breastfeeding.
  • Greater media and TV exposure at an early age leading to lethargic nature.

In some cases, obesity can be also a form of medical condition or disease. Other underlying conditions that are give rise to obesity are hyper-thyroid, Cushing’s syndrome, etc.

What are the effects of Childhood Obesity?

Obesity in a child is normally a cause for concern in itself apart from the various complications that can arise due to it in the child. A child with obesity is more likely to develop:

  • High blood pressure /high cholesterol leading to cardiovascular diseases.
  • Diabetes due to growing intolerance for insulin in the body.
  • Breathing issues such as asthma or sleep apnea.
  • Liver disorders, gastro-esophageal reflux, gallstones, etc.
  • Social and psychological developmental problems.

Excessive weight of the body also has an adverse effect on the health of the bones, muscles and the joints. Bones develop in strength and in size and excessive weight can damage the process of bone development adversely. Growth plates, which are responsible for regulating the length and shape of the bones, are affected by childhood obesity. This can often lead to broken bones, or other serious conditions.

These are the main forms of disorders and complications that arise in the knee, foot or ankle of a child suffering from childhood obesity:

Slipped Capital Femoral Epiphysis

Also known as SCFE, this is an orthopedic condition usually seen affecting the hips in an adolescent person. This is caused when the weakness in the growth plates results in the femoral head slipping back in comparison to the femur (thigh bone). This then causes severe pain in the knee or the hip along with an infrequent limp or even unable to put weight on the affected side’s leg.

This is a rare condition and is seen developing when the child’s body is experiencing spurts of growth, especially during puberty. Hormonal imbalance combined with obesity can affect the development of the growth plate in the major bones of the body.

Blount’s Disease

This is the severe bowing of the leg outwards at the knee. This is mostly the result of hormonal changes, excessive weight (obesity) and the increased pressure on the growth plates leading to abnormal growth and the bones seeming deformed.

Fractures and Other Complications

Children with obesity are more likely to develop other serious orthopedic conditions, such as weakened bones that are vulnerable to a fracture. Also, the child may suffer from further complications which tend to make treatment difficult in such cases.

Flat Feet

Children with obesity are also more likely to have painful flat feet which tend to make them get tired faster and also make it feel like an effort to walk for a considerable distance.

Impaired Movement

Children with obesity also suffer from coordination problems, also known as developmental coordination disorder (DCD), which is signified by:

  • Constant clumsiness
  • Gross motor coordination problem
  • Problems with fine motor skills

How can Childhood Obesity and its complications be prevented?

In some cases of childhood obesity, when the BMI is 40 or more, then the doctor will usually recommend a bariatric (weight loss) surgery to decrease weight and avoid further damage to the musculoskeletal structure of the body as well as other similar complications.

In many cases, a diet rich in calcium and other vital nutrients, combined with sufficient physical activity , can also help fight childhood obesity.

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