Musculoskeletal diseases are often associated with aging. It is true that the overall prevalence of muscle and bone-related diseases in a young age group is only about 3%, but increases to as high as 25% in age 70 and above.  However, the risk factors for musculoskeletal diseases such as obesity are also very much significant at a younger age. Obesity not only puts adults at much greater risks of developing degenerative diseases such as Osteoarthritis but also has a role in causing osteoarticular alterations in children using biomechanical changes.
A study was carried out by the School of Medicine, Sau Paulo in Brazil, that analyzed 25 boys and 24 girls of mean age 10 years (10.4 +/- 2.07 Years), and with a BMI that was above the 95th percentile. This group was compared with a similar set comprising 24 boys and 19 girls of mean age 10 yeas (10.4 +/- 2.3 Years), and with a BMI below the 80th percentile. 
The result of this study are startling and point to the conclusion that a child who is obese or overweight may be at much higher risk of developing various muscle and bone related issues, in addition to other common risks such as hyperlipidemia, hypertension, glucose intolerance and sleep disturbances.
Obesity and Childhood
Much attention has been given to the link-up between obesity and orthopedic diseases affecting joints such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis in adults. However, since orthopedic diseases due to their higher prevalence in aging population are mostly believed to be a natural consequence of aging, very little research and attention have been given to Children.
According to this study, 55% or more than half of obese children had some osteoarticular issue. A significant association was found between obesity and lower back pain, genu valgum (knock knees), genu recurvatum (bend-knees) and tight quadriceps.
Obese children had more issues in the lower extremities possibly due to excess stress on joints and back. Conventionally, it is believed that young children and adults do not suffer from low back pain though almost 85% of the population is likely to suffer from back pain at some point in their lifetime.
However, among the obese group, nearly 30% children reported lower back pain compared to only 1% of the control group. Knock knees was another common issue among obese children with 55% of obese children showing symptoms, compared to only 2% in the normal group. Lower leg pain was also highly prevalent in obese children.
It is hypothesized that due to greater weight bearing on the bones when they are in their formative stages, the bones gradually deform causing such issues. Not much difference was seen in musculoskeletal problems in the upper body parts of upper extremities between the obese and normal weight groups.
What does this mean for parents?
If your child is significantly overweight or obese, then it is important to be aware that your child may be at greater risk for developing musculoskeletal issues. Such issues can lead to further loss of physical activity and consequently a vicious cycle that leads to increased weight. Keep a watch for such possible problems and ensure that your child is engaging in as much physical activity as any normal child would.
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- Musculoskeletal findings in obese children; De Sá Pinto, Ana L; De Barros Holanda, Patricia M; Radu, Ari S; Villares, Sandra MF; Lima, Fernanda R; Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, Volume 42 (6) – Jun 1, 2006
- Photo Credit: Lorrie Graham/AusAID under CC 2.0
Dr. Kaleem Mohammed graduated as a Bachelor of Physiotherapy in 2014 from Deccan College of Physiotherapy, affiliated to Dr. N.T.R. University of Health Sciences, Vijayawada, India. Dr. Kaleem is an expert at handling physiotherapy needs of patients suffering from orthopedic and spinal conditions and post-surgery rehabilitation. Dr. Kaleem is associated with HealthClues since its inception where he facilitates diagnosis and advanced consultation with senior doctors. He is also a medical researcher and prolific writer who loves sharing insightful commentaries and useful tips to educate the patient community about fitness, treatment options, and post-treatment recovery.