More than 200 youngsters across Scotland have been treated for weight-related hip problems, a new study shows.
Experts have warned those childhood obesity should now be considered a major factor in a condition known as slipped capital femoral epiphysis (SCFE), caused when pressure causes the thigh bone to slip its place from the hip socket. Those affected are prone to limp and the condition can ultimately lead to arthritis.
The study of more than 600,000 children determined that those who are obese are far more likely to suffer from SCFE. It highlighted around 200 cases of the condition among the children over the course of a seven-year follow up.
While the peak age for children with the condition stood at between 11 and 12, researchers at the University of Liverpool found some as young as six were afflicted.
Danier Perry, a senior lecturer in orthopaedic surgery at the university, explained how he and his team set about identifying the impact of obesity.
He said: “Usually the disease presents gradually, as the hip slips out of place over a few months. It is therefore difficult to know if children have put on weight because their hip has got gradually painful, or if they were overweight or obese before the problem.
“The only way to do this is to look at children much younger in life to see who was overweight or obese way before the hip problem developed.”
The researchers examined records from primary school weigh-ins and hospital records of surgical procedures to correct SCFE. They then used weigh-in data for older primary school children. The results, Mr Perry said, showed that 75 per cent of those children who were clinically obese at five or six years of age remained so at 11 or 12.
While none of the young children with a healthy weight went on to develop SCFE, Mr Perry said there were “lots” of cases among those who were obese. Those who were obese aged five or six were almost six times more likely to develop SCFE.
A total of 80 per cent of children with the condition were either obese or overweight at the age of 11 or 12.
Mr Perry added: “We have therefore proved that obesity happens far before the child gets the disease. With this, and the trend in the amount of disease at different body weights, we can confidently say for the first time that childhood obesity causes SCFE.”
Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, described the findings as a “tragedy” which could leave children with life-long disabilities unless they received treatment.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We want to halve childhood obesity by 2030. Action starts pre-pregnancy and continues throughout school years and into adolescence.
“This includes more support for children, young people and families to achieve a healthy weight, and training for staff in services that support them.”