Childhood obesity has a harmful effect on health in a number of well-established ways, including cardiovascular problems, development of type II diabetes, bullying. New research shows that irreversible damage to the bones of growing teens should now be added to this growing list of consequences. Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital have identified a number of ways that excess fat may impact bone health during this vital time in the lifecycle.
In this study, obese teens were screened to determine that they had significant visceral fat mass, meaning that excess fat doesn’t just sit on top of internal organs, but rather surrounds them. This type of fat contributes to inflammation which, over time, increases the numbers and activity of the cells that break down and reabsorb bone. Excess fat also goes hand-in-hand with a decreased level of growth hormone, which is critical for bone development. Additionally, vitamin D, which helps bones use calcium to get stronger, is a fat soluble vitamin. This means that even when enough vitamin D is ingested, either through diet or through sun exposure, it can become trapped in fat cells rather than being used by the body.
Since we put on so much of our lifetime bone mass in our teens, it is crucially important to make sure that growing children and teens maintain a healthy weight. Talk to your pediatrician if you are concerned about your child’s weight and any short or long term consequences it may have on his or her health.
Do you have questions about how to maximize bone health in kids and adults? Ask in the comments below.