Obese Children at Higher Risk for Disease

Obese children are much more likely to develop a form of acid reflux known as GERD, which can cause heartburn and be a precursor to esophageal cancer.

Children who are obese are at a higher risk for developing a painful digestive disease called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), according to new research from Kaiser Permanente in California.

GERD is a common illness that affects up to 25 million adults in the U.S. and is said to cause inflammation in the esophagus, acid indigestion, and heartburn. For some people, GERD symptoms can become so uncomfortable that they disrupt daily life. Doctors have long identified a link between obesity and GERD in adults, but they didn’t know whether obesity affected the development of GERD in children, too.

Researchers from Kaiser Permanente determined that extremely obese kids have up to 40 percent higher risk of gastroesophageal reflux disease, while children who are moderately obese have up to a 30 percent higher risk of developing the condition, compared to children of a normal weight. Previous studies have shown that GERD that persists through adulthood increases the risk for developing cancer of the esophagus later in life.

Researchers gathered information on more than 690,000 children from 2 to 19 years old. They found that 1.5 percent of boys and 1.8 percent of girls suffered from GERD. The research showed that while the risk of developing GERD increased with the 6-11 year old and the 12-19 year old groups of overweight and obese children, there appeared to be no association between obesity and increased risk of GERD among children in the 2-5 year old group.

Lead author of the study Corinna Koebnick says, “Although we know that childhood obesity, especially extreme obesity, comes with risks for serious health conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, our study adds yet another condition to the list, which is GERD.”

The complete findings appear in the current issue of International Journal of Pediatric Obesity.