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Clinical Effectiveness Group

School-age girls with obesity are more likely to experience joint and muscle pain

Girls with obesity are more likely to experience pain in their bones, joints, muscles, ligaments or tendons compared with children with a healthy weight, according to CEG research. The same did not apply to boys.

Photo of a child holding their knee

Researchers hope their findings will raise awareness that obesity may contribute to musculoskeletal problems in children.

In the study, published in Archives of Disease in Childhood, researchers analysed anonymised information on 120,000 children, linking data from the National Child Measurement Programme with GP records. They found that girls with obesity were 1.7 times more likely than those with a healthy weight to have at least one GP consultation for a musculoskeletal symptom or diagnosis. Previous research has indicated a link between musculoskeletal problems and obesity in children, but this study is the first to observe the association in a large, ethnically diverse population in the UK, with high levels of childhood obesity and deprivation. 

Knee pain was the most common symptom reported in the study, followed by back pain. The authors note that musculoskeletal problems in this context may be caused by excess weight placing additional stress on the body’s joints, but more research is needed to understand why this results in an increase in problems for girls and not boys.

The National Child Measurement Programme is a Government initiative whereby children of primary school age in England are weighed and measured at school by health professionals. The programme gathers data to understand long-term trends in childhood obesity and inform national and local authority policies. 

The research was funded by a grant from Barts Charity.

Nicola Firman, Health Data Scientist at Queen Mary University of London, said: 
“Our findings demonstrate the value of linking and studying anonymised health data – without knowing the identity of any child, we were able to produce important insights into the consequences of obesity for health during childhood.”

“We hope our findings will increase awareness of the significance of poor musculoskeletal health, and drive more research into understanding the link with childhood obesity. More needs to be done at policy-level to support families to prevent obesity and potentially reduce the risk of musculoskeletal pain.”

Victoria King, Director of Funding and Impact at Barts Charity, said:
“With our funding, the REAL-HEALTH team at Queen Mary is using anonymised health data to gain insights and build tools that are directly impacting health outcomes locally. We are excited to see the results of this first-of-its-kind study from the team, showing an association between childhood obesity and musculoskeletal disorders in a diverse UK population. Building a stronger evidence base on the possible causes of joint and muscle pain could lead to policy changes that will improve the health of children in East London, as well as nationally.”

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