Are kids knee problems being fueled by an obesity epidemic? A sedentary lifestyle and poor diet can lead to childhood obesity, but few would have imagined that childhood obesity can result in knee arthritis in young adults. There has been a lot of focus the past few years on the dwindling activity levels of our children and the abundance of unhealthy foods they eat. This not only results in health problems in childhood but also rears its ugly head in early adulthood where it presents itself in a myriad of conditions: osteoarthritis can now be added to that list.
Osteoarthritis results from the cartilage on the ends of our bones being worn down over time. The more stress on cartilage, such as obesity, the greater and faster the wear and tear. In addition, obesity changes the chemical environment of the knee, making it more likely to be toxic. Because the damage to cartilage is progressive and cannot be undone, the damage experienced in childhood obesity can lead to knee arthritis in young adults. If that stress is not relieved, osteoarthritis will continue to worsen with age.
In a recent study, research discovered early lesions in the knee cartilage of children and adolescents who were morbidly obese. Males and females, a total of 57 subjects, aged 2 to 15 years were included in the study. Researchers divided them into three groups: heavy kids with knee pain, those without knee pain, and normal weight kids without knee pain. Using MRI, cartilage lesions were found in 38 of the 39 morbidly obese subjects. A much greater number of lesions could be seen on the images of children with knee pain. In addition, these kids had poorer knee function.
The upshot? Childhood obesity is associated with MRI evidence of early knee arthritis. Though childhood obesity increases the risk for knee arthritis in young adults, measures can be taken to eliminate risk factors and stop the progression of the early onset of the disease. Every pound an overweight child loses relieves pressure on his or her knees. Nutritious food choices (e.g., whole vegetables and fruits and lean meats) and activities that get children moving and sweating may help prevent arthritis down the line!