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1 December 2009
Overweight kids prone to spinal problems

Overweight children risk early degeneration in the spine and disc abnormalities, according to new research from the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA). "This is the first study to show an association between increased body mass index and disc abnormalities in children," said the study's lead author, Dr. Judah G. Burns, from The Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York City.

The researchers reviewed magnetic resonance images of the spines of 188 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 20 who complained of back pain. The images revealed that 98 of the patients had some abnormality in the lower spine. Most of those abnormalities occurred within the discs, which are sponge-like cushions in between the bones of the spine.

"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."

Children with a BMI 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 percent) of these children showed abnormal findings on their spine MRI. Fifty-two patients fell into the lowest three quartiles. Only 18 (35 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."

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Source: Radiological Society of North America

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