Obesity Drives GERD Symptoms in Kids

In my book SuperSized Kids: How to protect your child from the obesity threat and on my SuperSized Kids Web site I write at some length about the many illnesses we doctors are now seeing in kids that are due to the tsunami of childhood overweight and obesity — such as high blood pressure, hypertension, heart disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes, joint disease, skin problems, and mental health issues — all of which are increased by childhood obesity. Now we can add another: gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. In fact, the next generation of patients with GERD could come from the burgeoning epidemic of childhood obesity, according to a new study presented recently at a professional meeting of gastroenterologists. (BTW, you can learn more about my SuperSized Kids book by looking at the hyperlinks at the bottom of this blog).

Here are the details from MedPage:

Between 25% and 30% of overweight and obese children had symptoms consistent with GERD. That contrasts with previous evidence suggesting a GERD prevalence of 3% to 5% among children.

“In this interim analysis of a cohort of overweight and obese children, GERD is highly prevalent, correlating with studies reported in adults,” Marek Lukacik, MD, of the Medical College of Georgia in Albany, said in an interview during Digestive Disease Week.

“Being obese or overweight should be considered a risk factor for GERD in the pediatric population. As obesity becomes more prevalent in this young group, symptomatic GERD may have greater impact on healthcare spending. Chronic GERD may have ramifications for the long-term health of obese children.”

The findings came from an ongoing study of the effects of exercise and cognition in overweight and obese children. As part of the study, participants completed a questionnaire designed to assess the frequency of symptoms associated with reflux (such as nausea, vomiting, substernal burning or pain, and sour taste in the mouth). The questionnaire had been validated for use in children, said Lukacik.

The preliminary analysis involved 75 children, including 45 girls. The mean age of the entire group was about 10 and was similar among boys and girls. Weight averaged 50 kg in boys and 56 kg in girls, and body mass index (BMI) averaged 25 in the boys and almost 27 in the girls.

Lukacik reported that 15 of the 75 children met criteria for overweight (BMI 80th to 95th percentile), and the remaining 60 qualified as obese (≥95th percentile BMI).

The survey results showed that a substantial proportion of the children reported one or more symptoms of GERD within the past week:

  • Nausea, 15% to 20%
  • Vomiting, ~5%
  • Substernal burning, 25% to 30%
  • Upper abdominal pain, 15% to 20%
  • Sour taste in mouth, 20% to 25%

Rates were similar in boys and girls and did not differ between children who were overweight and those who were obese. None of the children reported use of acid-suppression medication.

“Overall, about 25% to 30% of the children reported having symptoms of GERD within the past week,” said Lukacik.

In the next phase of the study, investigators plan to compare the frequency of GERD symptoms in the overweight/obese cohort and a group of normal-weight children, he added.

So, what can you and your family do to help your child? Obtain a copy of SuperSized Kids: How to protect your child from the obesity threat and review loads of tips on how to protect your family:

  • Order an autographed copy of the book here.
  • Read more about the book here.
  • See the Table of Contents of the book here.
  • Read the first chapter of the book here.

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