Childhood Obesity’s Effect on Bone and Joint Health

Over the last few decades, with each passing year our society has gotten fatter and fatter. Obesity has no prejudice, it impacts people of all races, genders, religions, sexual orientation and ages. There seem to be few boundaries that obesity does not trample all over and the problem is only getting worse. It is a huge travesty that we are allowing our nation’s children to become obese such as we are. When we allow this, or help it to happen, we are only dooming our youth to a lifetime of misery at some point. And this point in time is coming earlier and earlier as the obesity epidemic spreads, just think of all the younger people you might know who are all stoved up with what at one time we referred to as exclusively “old people” issues. Look at the younger people in your life, family, friends and coworkers, how many of them suffer from arthritis, back pain or joint issues? Unless you are a hermit living in solitude, odds are great that you know someone who is prematurely handicapped by entirely preventable bone and joint issues. And then take note of how many of these individuals are also over weight or obese.

Getting to a healthy weight or body fat percentage will either greatly help or entirely fix your aches and pains!

If you are one who suffers hip, knee and ankle pains, what are you doing to remedy the pains you live with each day? Are you on pain medications for arthritis? Do you take any anti-inflammatory medications to help you through the day? Have you had to have surgical procedures to fix any of these issues even if they have not come about as a result of an accidental injury? Or for the most important question;

Have you tried to remedy these issues by watching every damn thing you put into your mouth at the dinner table?

You have more control than you think over your aches and pains when they do not come from disease or injuries.

I have heard countless people tell me it is too expensive to eat healthy. To which I say bullshit. Eating less than healthy garbage costs you more than healthy eating ever will. You might save a few dollars at the grocery store when you do your weekly shopping. But these savings will be greatly offset by the expense of doctors visits, medications and therapies.

Have you looked at how much medicines cost now days?

Have you ever paid for a CT Scan, X-rays, and surgical procedures to fix your hip and knee problems?

You can bet that whatever you saved through buying sugary foods and processed garbage was more than ate up by medical expenses. You do not have to live your life with those expenses. You do have the power to control your weight if only you will.

Did you know that for every one pound you weigh, your knees feel the force of three pounds of pressure with each step you take? 

If you are at a healthy weight for your stature, this is not a problem no matter your age. But think of the implications when you are obese. If you weigh in at a whopping three hundred pounds, your knees absorb nine hundred pounds of pressure with each step. This is the kind of force that is absorbed by elite level power lifters when they are squatting or dead lifting competitive weights in the heavyweight class of lifters. Unless you are an elite power lifter, your body cannot handle this kind of abuse for too long before it begins to give you massive problems.

Now just imagine the problems that will arise when you allow your child to become obese!

When I was a kid, we used to get up early and venture out on our bicycles for the day, or maybe we would get together for a game of baseball or Frisbee throwing. We were active and obesity was not common among kids of my generation as it is today. We did not sit in front of video games all day while drinking soda pop and eating cookies and cakes all day long.  Today, approximately 32% of American children and adolescents, ages 2 to 19, are considered overweight or obese. Why the hell did we allow this to happen?

What kind of life is in store for a 12 year old who already weighs in excess of 200 pounds?

Does anyone in their right mind believe a 200 pound 12 year old is not going to have weight related health issues along with mobility issues as they get older? Obesity can cause many health and social problems beginning in childhood, and continuing and intensifying throughout life. These problems include type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, metabolic syndrome, obstructive sleep apnea, low self-esteem and depression.

In addition, excess weight can cause vitamin deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, and increased stress and tension that can affect bone growth and overall musculoskeletal health, causing deformity, pain, and potentially, a lifetime of limited mobility and diminished life quality. Obesity is why we have people in their  thirties and forties living as if they were already in their senior years. The younger one is allowed to live an unhealthy life, the earlier these health issues are going to affect them.

The Prevalence of Obesity in the U.S.

Childhood obesity is among the most serious health challenges of the 21st century.

  • Over the past three decades, the prevalence of children in the U.S. who are obese has doubled, while the number of adolescents who are obese has tripled.
  • About one in eight preschoolers (ages 2 to 5) in the U.S. are obese.
  • Children who are overweight or obese as preschoolers are five times as likely as normal-weight children to be overweight or obese as adults.

According to the CDC, the environmental factors that may contribute to excess weight in children and adolescents include:

  • Greater availability of less healthy foods and sugary drinks.
  • Advertising of less healthy foods.
  • Lack of daily, quality physical activity in schools.
  • No safe and appealing place, in many communities, to play or be active.
  • Limited access to healthy foods. If you are a parent, YOU are the one who limits your child’s access to healthy foods!
  • Increasing portion sizes.
  • Greater exposure to television and media. U.S. children ages 8 to 18 spend an average of 7.5 hours a day using entertainment media including TV, computers, video games, cell phones and movies.

Too much weight also can seriously impact the growth and health of bones, joints, and muscles.

Bones grow in size and strength during childhood. Excess weight can damage the growth plate — the area of developing cartilage tissue at the end of the body’s arm, leg and other long bones. Growth plates regulate and help determine the length and shape of a bone at full growth or maturity.

Too much weight places excess stress on the growth plate which can lead to early arthritis, a greater risk for broken bones, and other serious conditions, such as slipped capital femoral epiphysis and Blount’s disease.

What is Slipped Capital Femoral Epiphysis?

Slipped capital femoral epiphysis is an orthopedic disorder of the adolescent hip. It occurs when the ball at the upper end (head) of the femur (thighbone) slips off in a backward direction due to weakness of the growth plate. The condition can cause weeks or months of hip or knee pain, and an intermittent limp. In severe cases, the adolescent may be unable to bear any weight on the affected leg. (1)

This condition is not rare, and often develops during periods of accelerated growth or shortly after the onset of puberty.

Not rare!

Let that sink into your mind as you gaze at your obese child.

What is Blount’s Disease?

Blount’s disease, or severe bowing of the legs, is another condition in which hormonal changes and increased stress on a growth plate, caused by excess weight, can lead to irregular growth and deformity (1)

In younger children and less severe cases, a leg brace or orthotic may correct the problem. However, surgery may sometimes be needed. Surgery consists of either growth modulation or tibial osteotomy. With growth modulation, use of a metal plate and screws around the growth plate leads to a gradual correction of the bowing over time. With tibial osteotomy, a wedge of bone is removed from the outside of the tibia (shinbone) under the healthy side of the knee. When the surgeon closes the wedge, it straightens the leg.

Children diagnosed as overweight or obese have a higher risk of complications related to these procedures, including infection, delayed bone healing, failure of fixation, and recurrence of Blount’s disease.

Fractures and Related Complications

Children diagnosed as obese or overweight may have a higher risk for fractures (broken bones) due to stress on the bones or because of weakened bones secondary to inactivity. In addition, these children may have more complications that can delay or alter treatment outcomes.

For example, traditional metal implants may not be sufficiently strong to repair broken or misaligned bones. In addition, crutches may be difficult to use for children who are obese or overweight, and cast immobilization may not sufficiently stabilize broken bones. As a result, surgery, in addition to casting, is often required. (1)

Flat Feet

Children who are overweight or obese often have painful, flat feet that tire easily and prevent them from walking long distances. Many children with flat feet are treated with orthotics and stretching exercises focused on the Achilles tendon (heel cord). (1)

Because weight loss is often enough to ease the pain of flat feet, low impact weight reduction exercises, such as swimming, may be recommended.

Impaired Mobility

Children diagnosed with obesity often have difficulties with their coordination, called developmental coordination disorder (DCD). The symptoms of DCD may include:

  • Clumsiness
  • Problems with gross motor coordination such as jumping, hopping or standing on one foot
  • Problems with visual or fine motor coordination, such as writing, using scissors, tying shoelaces or tapping one finger to another

Developmental coordination disorder may impair or limit a child’s ability to exercise, potentially resulting in more weight gain.

Take action on your child’s behalf.

Do your child a favor and instill good nutritional habits early on. Encourage your child to play and exercise. Keep your child active and teach them what healthy nutrition is and what it means to them. As nutritional consultants, it is amazing the number of young people who have reached out to Brenda Sue and myself through our website contact and personally, who have zero clue what it means to eat healthy. It is mind boggling when a twenty year old does not understand that you cannot live on junk food and soda pop and still be able to live a healthy life. It becomes absurd when one does not understand the correlation and causation that bad nutrition and laziness has on your quality of life. It is maddening when one who has had a lifetime of bad nutrition is now unable to break their unhealthy habits even with they have been informed over and over how healthy eating will improve their life quality even as they face their own demise from disease.

Imagine if you will, a point in your child’s life that having a piece of cake or a cookie becomes more important than their own life.

Think it can’t happen?

Then you would be sadly mistaken.

It can…


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