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Overweight or obese pre-school children have a higher risk of bone fractures during childhood than those of normal weight according to a new study published in the Journal of Bone & Mineral Research.

Baby © Shutterstock

The increasing prevalence of childhood obesity is a major public health concern worldwide having been associated with cardiorespiratory disease, diabetes, and mental health disorders in later life. Research to date has largely focused upon the impact of obesity in later childhood and the impact on adult health, with less known about the effect of preschool obesity upon health in childhood and adolescence.

A focused study of the association between preschool obesity and fracture risk offered the opportunity to better understand the impact of obesity in early life.

"The primary aim of the study was to determine if elevated body mass index (BMI) just before starting school at age 4 years was associated with an increased incidence of fracture in childhood," said Jennifer Lane, Versus Arthritis Clinical Research Fellow in Orthopaedic Surgery at NDORMS and lead author. "We found that elevated body weight at the age of starting school, increased the risk of breaking a bone later in childhood."

The research team of scientists and doctors from the UK and Spain analysed health records of 466,997 children from Catalonia. As part of routine healthcare check ups in childhood before starting school, they were each weighed and measured to give their BMI. The team then followed the health of the cohort until the children reached 15 years old, or were lost to follow up for other reasons.

Among the children, 5.7% were considered to have an overweight BMI and 2.0% obese. Having an obese BMI at the time of starting school was associated with a 70% and 20% excess risk of lower and upper limb fractures respectively during childhood, with an overweight BMI leading to 40% and 10% excess risk.

"More research is needed to further understand the mechanisms underlying this correlation," said Jennifer. "Our study adds to a body of work that supports further research into the role that pre-school obesity has in health problems in childhood and beyond."