Obesity Growing as Health Concern for People with Spinal Cord Injury

Armen Hareyan's picture

60 percent of U-M's spinal cord injury patients are overweight, obese.

ANN ARBOR, MI -After living with a spinal cord injury for 10 years, Mark Pascoe knows he needs to work hard to keep his weight down.

"I continue to gain weight and have to be careful with my diet. I was very active and strong before the injury and now it's limited those abilities," says Pascoe, 46, who broke his neck when he fell off a jet ski and hit a rock in the water.


Pascoe is not alone in his weight worries. As the nation fights a growing obesity epidemic, the problem is even more dramatic for people with spinal cord injury.

Researchers at the University of Michigan Health System are looking at how people with spinal cord injury burn calories and how that is affected by their muscle mass and body weight. The goal is to make better recommendations to people with spinal cord injury, but the research will also translate into greater understanding of obesity in the general population as well.

"Individuals with spinal cord injury have significantly less bone mass and muscle mass. As a result, their body weight is comprised of much more fat and less muscle or bone than you would see in an able-bodied individual," says David Gater, M.D., Ph.D., director of Spinal Cord Injury Medicine at UMHS and director of the Spinal Cord Injury Research Center at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System.

Muscle burns calories even when the body is at rest. For someone with a spinal cord injury