We know that childhood obesity sets kids up for many long term health problems like heart disease and diabetes. Less talked about is how extra weight can affect healthy growth of a child’s bones and joints.
My recent research found that obese children are at greater risk of serious bone, joint and nerve injuries in their elbows from something as simple and common as a fall at the playground. Elbow fractures are more severe and complications are more common after surgery for children who are obese or overweight.
Our findings further support efforts to fight childhood obesity. But there are other lifestyle changes parents can make to promote their kids’ bone health. The best time to build strong bones is during childhood and adolescence – when bones are growing.
It’s a misconception that osteoporosis, which causes bones to be fragile and break easily, is an “elderly” issue. Bone mass develops rapidly between the ages of 10 and 20 – peaking between ages 25 and 30 – which is why osteoporosis prevention truly begins at an early age and continues throughout a lifetime.
Ways to help your kids build a strong skeletal foundation for life:
- Top priority is getting enough calcium and Vitamin D in kids’ diets while maintaining a healthy weight. Vitamin D is found in Vitamin D fortified milk and a daily Vitamin D supplement as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Good sources of calcium include dairy products –milk is great – as well as leafy green vegetables.
- Daily exercise in the form of weight-bearing sports like walking, hiking, soccer, and basketball works with the mechanical receptors in bones to signal them to become stronger.
- Focus on healthy safe play and careful team play with attention to cross training to avoid overuse injuries.
- Avoid over-exercise and help prevent kids from falling in the underweight category (less than 5th percentile) to maintain bone mass.
- Keep regular visits to the pediatrician or family doctor to maintain kids’ good health.
- Check out American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons’ “Healthy Bones at Every Age” feature for more information.
Strong bones help maintain a skeleton that can structurally and metabolically support the person through their life and it’s important to pay attention to bone health at every age.
Take the next step:
- Read about Dr. Caird’s recent research on how obesity influences elbow fractures
- Learn more about Bones, Muscles and Joints (Pediatric Orthopaedic Surgery) at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, which is ranked among the nation’s best children orthopedic programs.
- Read more on children’s health blog posts.
Michelle S. Caird, M.D. is an assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery. Her interests include fracture and defect healing, especially in the setting of low bone mass diseases in children. She treats fractures and spinal deformity in children with osteogenesis imperfecta, spina bifida, and cerebral palsy and in the laboratory, she investigates bone healing in these diseases. She is currently a member of the Board of the Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America and she recently represented POSNA in Northern Europe as one of the 2012 POSNA Traveling Fellows.
University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.