In the last 30 years, the rate of childhood obesity has more than doubled in the United States, and the number of obese teenagers has increased four-fold! In 2012, roughly 20% of all American children and teenagers aged six to 19 were obese, and over one-third were either overweight or obese. These numbers are startling to say the least, especially considering the numerous and significant adverse effects on health that have been demonstrated to result from obesity, as well as the negative effects obesity can have on a child’s confidence and psychological wellbeing.

In addition to greatly increasing the risks of developing diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke and certain cancers in adulthood, obesity in children has also been demonstrated in a number of scientific studies to put their musculoskeletal system at risk and to increase the risk of orthopedic trauma.

Obesity Increases the Risk of Orthopedic Trauma

In a recent study published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Seeley and colleagues reported on 354 patients between the ages of two and 11 with various types of humeral (arm) fractures. They found that obesity in children was significantly associated with a higher rate of complex fractures, preoperative and postoperative nerve palsies, and postoperative complications. Moreover, they found that obese children were 13 times more likely to sustain complex fractures resulting from falling and landing on an outstretched hand compared to normal-weight children.

This is far from the first study to report on an association between childhood obesity and an increased risk of fractures. In 2013, Kessler and colleagues retrospectively examined the relationship between obesity and lower extremity fractures in over 900,000 patients aged 2 to 19 years with different fracture locations. Interestingly, they found that overweight, moderately obese, and extremely obese children had a significantly higher risk of foot, ankle, knee and leg fractures, and that the risk was incrementally increased along with increasing body mass index; and this association was particularly strong in children aged six to 11.

In another study from 2013, Backstrom et al. found that, among 78 obese and 278 non-obese children aged two to 14, being obese was significantly associated with more severe leg fractures, a higher rate of hospitalization, and a three times higher risk of dying in the hospital (when not adjusting the data to the severity of the fracture). In 2012, Valerio and colleagues similarly reported that the prevalence of overweight/obesity was significantly higher in children with fractures than in healthy controls, especially in patients with lower limb fractures.

Of course, these are only a handful of studies on the topic, and while some studies have conversely found that there is no, or only a very small, association between obesity and the risk and severity of fractures, the results of most studies suggest that this is in fact the case. Unless in cases of metabolic or other medical conditions, there is no reason for anyone, let alone toddlers and young children, to be obese; and losing weight and living a healthy lifestyle will affect not only their risk of sustaining bad fractures, but also their overall health and wellbeing. By making sure that your child participates in some kind of physical activity each day and by ensuring that they eat a healthy and balanced diet, you can greatly reduce their risk of getting obese and developing obesity-related conditions.

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