Children who are overweight or obese have a higher risk for gallstones, according to a large new study conducted by Kaiser Permanente in California.
Researchers found that children and adolescents who were overweight were twice as likely to have gallstones, compared to youths of normal weight. Moderately obese children were four times more likely and the extremely obese were six times more likely to have gallstone disease.
“These findings add to an alarming trend — youth who are obese or extremely obese are more likely to have diseases we normally think of as adult conditions,” said Corina Koebrick, lead author of research being published in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition. The study was based on health records of more than 510,000 children, aged 10 to 19, who were members of Kaiser Permanente Southern California.
20 million adults in the U.S. have gallstone disease. Although many have no symptoms, those who do often suffer from nausea and abdominal pain. Gallstones cause a blockage that prevents the passage of bile into the intestines, which can lead to severe infection or damage to the pancreas, liver, or gallbladder. Gallstone disease can be fatal if left untreated.
“The high rate of gallstones in obese children and adolescents may surprise pediatricians because gallstone disease is generally regarded as an adult disorder. Since obesity is so common, pediatricians must learn to recognize the characteristic symptoms of gallstones,” said senior study author George Longstreth, a gastroenterologist at Kaiser Permanente San Diego Medical Center.
The study found a stronger link between gallstones and obesity in girls than in boys. While boys who were obese or severely obese were two to three times more likely to have gallstones, obese or extremely overweight girls were six to eight times more likely to have gallstone disease.
“With childhood obesity on the rise, pediatricians can expect to diagnose and treat an increasing number of children affected by gallstone disease. It is important to identify other factors that increase risk as well,” said Koebnick, who adds that more research s needed to understand the role of risk factors such as obesity, gender, ethnicity and oral contraceptive use.The study is part of ongoing research aimed at identifying and treating childhood obesity. Over 7% of the boys and 5.5% of the girls in the Kaiser Permanente study are extremely obese. The study was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders.