Overweight kids more likely to suffer back pain

Overweight children may develop back pain and spinal abnormalities, according to a study presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

“In children, back pain is usually attributed to muscle spasm or sprain,” Dr. Burns said. “It is assumed that disc disease does not occur in children, but my experience says otherwise.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 percent of U.S. children (age 6 – 11) and 18 percent of U.S. adolescents (age 12 -19) are overweight. BMI, a mathematical ratio of body weight and height, is a widely used measurement for obesity. Lower BMI is associated with being underweight or a healthy body size; higher BMI scores are associated with being overweight or obese. Children above the 85th percentile are generally classified as overweight or at risk of being overweight.

The researchers were able to determine an age-adjusted BMI for 106 of the total 188 patients. Fifty-four had BMI greater than the 75th percentile for age. Thirty-seven (68.5 percent) of these children showed abnormal findings on their spine MRI. Fifty-two patients fell into the lowest three quartiles. Only 18 (34.6 percent) of the children at or below a healthy weight had an abnormal MRI of the spine.

“We observed a trend toward increased spine abnormality with higher BMI,” Dr. Burns said. “These results demonstrate a strong relationship between increased BMI in the pediatric population and the incidence of lumbar disc disease.”

According to Dr. Burns, data revealed in the study could signal a significant public health problem given the health costs of back pain in the U.S.

“Back pain causes significant morbidity in adults, affecting quality of life and the ability to be productive,” he said.

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