ANN ARBOR, Mich. — For children who are obese, a simple fall may lead to more serious elbow injuries and greater complications after surgery than children of a normal weight, according to a new study from the University of Michigan Health System.
Obese children who experience a common above-the-elbow fracture (called a supracondylar humeral fracture) are at greater risk of bone, joint and nerve damage that sets them up for long-term health problems, according to the findings that appear in the February issue of the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery.
“Something as simple and common as falling onto an outstretched hand while playing at the playground can have far greater health consequences for children who are diagnosed as obese,” says senior author Michelle S. Caird, M.D., assistant professor in the department of orthopaedic surgery at the U-M Medical School.
“There are many serious risks to childhood obesity, including fractures and surgical complications. It’s important that children get the proper amount of exercise in order to strengthen their bones early in life.”
Pediatric obesity continues to be a major health concern in the U.S., with its prevalence having quadrupled over the last 25 years.
The study is believed to be among the first to assess the implications of obesity on this type of fracture, supporting public health efforts to combat childhood obesity. Similar studies have shown that overweight children who break their femur (or thigh bone) are more likely to need bigger surgery and have more complications than children who are not overweight.
“Future research needs to focus on modifying obesity in kids to see how that impacts fracture complexity and above-the-elbow fractures,” Caird says. “We should also explore ways to improve childhood bone health overall whether that means more calcium, vitamin D, exercise or a combination of such measures to help build and maintain a skeleton that can structurally and metabolically support the person through their lifetime.”
Additional authors: Mark A. Seeley, M.D.; Joel J. Gagnier, N.D., M.Sc., Ph.D.; Robert N. Hensinger, M.D.; Kelly L. VanderHave, M.D., M.S.; Frances A. Farley, M.D., all of U-M.
Reference: “Obesity and its effects on pediatric supracondylar humeral fractures,” J Bone Joint Surg Am (JBJS), February, 2014, dx.doi.org/10.2106/JBJS.L.01643