Childhood obesity linked to back problems

Overweight children are at greater risk of back pain and lifelong spinal problems, according to a study presented in November of 2009 at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. Researchers demonstrated a link between higher body mass index (BMI) in children and disc abnormalities, primarily in the lower back.

“We observed a trend toward increased spine abnormality with higher BMI… These results demonstrate a strong relationship between increased BMI in the pediatric population and the incidence of lumbar disc disease,” said the study’s primary author, Dr. Judah Burns, from The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, according to an article in Science Daily.

Body mass index alone appeared to be the determining factor in disc deterioration. Children who had experienced back trauma or related injuries that could cause back pain were removed from the study. The identification of obesity’s contribution to early spinal problems may be a key to the prevention of significant back problems in adulthood.

More than 17% of children ages 6-19 are overweight, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Furthermore, recent studies in Europe show that 39% of adolescents report low back pain at least once a month. It is critical that childhood obesity and its impacts on spinal health be addressed early to prevent future disability.


Burns J, Erdfarb AJ, Schneider J, Ginsburg D, Taragin B., and Lipton ML. Radiological Society of North America. “Overweight Children May Develop Back Pain and Spinal Abnormalities.” Science Daily

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Childhood Overweight and Obesity" 20 October 2009

Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. "Prevalence of Low Back Pain and Its Effect on Health-Related Quality of Life in Adolescents" 1 January 2009.