The challenge of obesity among children has been well publicized in the past few years. From programs like Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move,” to Alice Waters’ “The Edible Schoolyard Project,” to national and local hospital and healthcare providers, the recognition of childhood obesity and team effort to decrease its prevalence and impact continue to gain momentum.
As a pediatric orthopedic surgeon with a focus on sports medicine in the growing athlete, I have a unique perspective on the impact of obesity on children. Aches and pains in the hips, knees and ankles are more common among children who are overweight, and participation in running and sports is more challenging for these children. When they do injure themselves, return to activity can take longer, and they can enter an unfortunate cycle of further decrease in activity and further weight gain.
Children who carry extra weight have a higher chance of problems like slipped capital femoral epiphysis (a slip through the growth plate of the hip) and Blount’s disease (bowing of the leg). Children who are overweight have a higher chance of encountering challenges and complications when they break their bones and injure their ligaments. Surgery is less safe for children with obesity, and recovery times are longer and more challenging. Even the simplest and most common treatments that we have to offer are impacted by extra weight: casting is more difficult for overweight children with broken bones, and crutches can be difficult to navigate for heavier children.
Heavier children and children with obesity are more likely to become heavier adults and adults with obesity. With that come the challenges of continued aches and pains, arthritis, back pain and degeneration, difficulty undergoing surgery for broken bones, and less ability to stay healthy and fit.
It is my firm belief that the pediatric orthopedic community should be on the forefront of the movement to fight the battle against obesity among children. We have a unique chance to influence our patients and their families at a time in life when change is most possible for these children. I believe that we should take the time to address this issue every time an overweight child is seen in our office, whether it be for a broken bone, knee pain, intoeing, or for a deformed leg or hip. It has been shown that advice from a doctor has a high likelihood of resulting in change in behavior. I think it is appropriate for us to use our expertise and precious time to help make a stand against childhood obesity.