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Overweight Kids: Prone to Headaches?

Study Shows Heavy Children and Teens Have More Frequent and More Disabling Headaches

More Frequent, More Disabling continued...

That wasn't a surprise, since the children were seeking help at a headache clinic. But Hershey also found that the heavier the child, the more likely he or she was to have frequent headaches.

The researchers asked how disabling the headaches were in terms of missed school days and other activities, and then gave each youngster a disability score.

Those overweight or at risk for being so had disability scores of 41.9 and 42.9 on a scale for which 30 to 50 is considered moderate. The healthy-weight children with headaches had a disability score of only 28.7.

Chicken-Egg Questions

"The question of whether the obesityobesity directly leads to the headache is not solved," Hershey said. The association is complicated, but he suspects children with frequent headaches may be exercising less, and therefore gaining weight.

Mark Grossman, MD, a pediatrician at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center in California, who was not involved in the study, said the weight-headache connection is worth further evaluation.

And he sees another potential association: "Very often obesity leads to poor sleep. Poor sleep, poor restfulness can increase episodes of headache."

Like Grown-up, Like Child?

Hershey's research was triggered by findings in adults, including a study by Richard Lipton, MD, professor and vice chairman of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, and his colleagues.

The New York researchers evaluated more than 30,000 migraine sufferers. When they categorized them by body mass indexes as underweight, healthy weight, overweight, or obese, they found that as BMI increased to unhealthy levels, headache frequency and severity increased, too.

Lipton is not surprised that the study in children found the same. "It makes perfect sense," he says. "What we know in adults is that obesity probably doesn't predispose you to migraine, but if you are obese it makes your migraine more disabling."

Hershey and his colleagues are continuing to follow the children and teens they studied to evaluate the effect of weight lossweight loss on their headaches.

"If we treat their obesity, will their headache go away or improve?" That's the question the researchers hope to answer next.

Meanwhile, Hershey's advice to parents of overweight headache sufferers is to pay attention not only to their headache medication, but also to fostering healthy habits such as exercise, good nutritionnutrition, and proper sleep.

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