Obese Children at Greater Risk for Reflux Disease

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A new study has found that obese children have a 30 to 40% higher risk for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) than normal-weight children. Early-onset GERD may make people more vulnerable to conditions such as Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer.

GERD is a condition that occurs when the contents of the stomach reflux back into the esophagus causing irritation and tissue damage. Obesity can increase the risk of GERD because the excess abdominal weight compresses the stomach and raises the pressure inside, leading to gastric reflux. Other factors, such as inflammation and poor diet can also affect GERD risk.

About 10% of GERD patients develop a precancerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which increases the risk for esophageal cancer, the fastest growing cancer in the US.

The latest study, conducted by Kaiser Permanente research scientist Corinna Koebnick PhD, analyzed the medical records of more than 690,000 children who were enrolled in the Kaiser Permanente Southern California health plan in 2007 and 2008.

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An association between obesity and reflux disease was found in children aged 6 and older and in teens, but not in younger children. About 1.5% of boys and 1.8% of girls suffered from GERD.

Moderately obese children were found to have up to a 30% increased risk of developing GERD while 40% of those who are extremely obese are at risk. The study also found that 8-25% of children already have frequent symptoms of reflux disease, according to Koebnick.

"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," said Dr. Koebnick.

GERD can also decrease quality of life, said Koebnick. The disease can cause chronic heartburn, nausea, and has the potential for increasing respiratory problems such as persistent cough, inflammation of the larynx, and asthma.

Across the United States, gastroesophageal reflux disease is thought to affect 2 to 10 percent of children, according to other studies. In one school-based study, 40 percent of teens 14 to 18 reported at least one symptom of esophageal GERD.

Source reference:
Koebnick C, et al "Extreme childhood obesity is associated with increased risk for gastroesophageal reflux disease in a large population-based study" Int J Pediatr Obes2010; DOI: 10.3109/17477166.2010.491118.

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