Saturday 18 November 2017

Obese children 'at greater risk of bone fractures'

Overweight infants also more likely to develop osteoporosis in old age, new research shows

Obesity in young children has major implications for many aspects of adult health. Photo: Thinkstockphotos.com
Obesity in young children has major implications for many aspects of adult health. Photo: Thinkstockphotos.com

Nina Lakhani

Obese young children are vulnerable to bone fractures and more likely to develop osteoporosis in old age, according to new research seen exclusively by The Independent on Sunday.

Overweight children develop bigger skeletons in order to carry their extra weight. A study of 499 healthy six-year-old children - to be presented at the British Society for Rheumatology conference this week - found their bigger bones have 5 to 6pc lower bone density, because they lack enough minerals to make them strong. Higher rates of fractures in fat children had previously been linked to clumsiness and poor co-ordination.

The Medical Research Council (MRC) study suggests childhood obesity will increase the risk of osteoporosis, and debilitating hip and back fractures in old age, as 90pc of bone mass is acquired in childhood, directly affecting how strong bones are in later life.

The children are part of a much larger cohort being studied by MRC scientists at the Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit in Southampton, in an attempt to understand how lifestyle, diet and other environmental factors in pregnancy and childhood influence diseases of ageing, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Studies have already identified links between childhood obesity and asthma, and fractures and fizzy drinks.

Dr Zoe Cole, rheumatologist and researcher, said the findings made tackling childhood obesity even more urgent as the costs of osteoporosis are unaffordable.

Dr David Haslam, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said: "We need the Government to stop their wishy-washy initiatives and to show some political will to prevent obesity in children and to improve management for those already overweight. Being overweight in childhood isn't a death sentence, but children need help to lead healthier lives."

Bone is living tissue that changes constantly, with bits of old bone being replaced by new. During childhood and adolescence, much more bone is deposited than withdrawn, so the skeleton grows in size, strength and density, a process that reaches its peak at the age of 30-35.

Fractures are most common in children and the elderly. Breaking a bone ultimately depends upon two factors: the strength of the bone and the forces applied to it. Losing a lot of bone mass in later life can lead to osteoporosis. Hip fractures among the elderly are strongly associated with admissions to hospital and care homes, and even with early death.

Dr Cole said: "Obesity in young children has major implications for many aspects of adult health. People are living longer, so if overweight children are starting off with poor bones, osteoporosis rates will rise regardless of current prevention strategies. If some children could revert to normal weight and near-normal bone density, then it would make an enormous difference to the bone health of the population as a whole."

Independent News Service

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