Overweight Kids Risk Weak Bones, Diabetes

Researcher Says Abdominal Fat May Play a Role in Bone Strength

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on August 17, 2010
From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 17, 2010 -- Overweight children who are at risk for developing diabetes before puberty also face greater odds for having weak bones, a new study indicates.

Researchers at the Medical College of Georgia studied 140 children between the ages of 7 and 11 who got little regular exercise and found that 30% showed signs of poor blood sugar regulation and 4% to 5% less bone mass, which is a measure of bone strength.

The researchers say their new study is the first to suggest a link between weaker bones and childhood risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes, which is associated with inactivity and obesity, is becoming more common in kids. Type 1 diabetes is associated with poor bone health and is thought to be caused by genetic and environmental factors.

First Clue Linking Obesity to Fractures

Norman Pollock, PhD, a bone biologist at Medical College of Georgia’s Georgia Prevention Institute, says the new study “provides the first clue linking childhood obesity to skeletal fractures."

“While overweight children may have more bone mass than normal weight kids, it may not be big or strong enough to compensate for their larger size,” Pollock says in a news release.

It’s an oversimplification, says Pollock, a professor of nutrition at the Medical College of Georgia, to assert that everyone who is overweight has weak bones, and the phenomenon found in the study may have more to do with how fat is distributed throughout the body.

People with prediabetes tend to have more fat around their abdominal areas called visceral fat, a type of fat found deep in the belly that is linked to cardiovascular disease as well as diabetes, the researchers say.

In the study, published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, greater amounts of visceral fat were associated with lower bone mass, while more body fat overall was associated with higher bone mass.

The Importance of Fighting Abdominal Fat

“Taken together, it seems that excessive abdominal fat may play a key role linking prediabetes to lower bone mass,” Pollock says.

“Our greatest window of opportunity to enhance bone strength and ultimately reduce the risk of osteoporosis is during childhood, before the capacity to build bone mass diminishes,” Pollock says. “One of the best things you can do for bone development and general health is exercise.”

Behavior Changes Can Head Off Problems

Catherine Davis, PhD, a clinical health psychologist at the Georgia Prevention Institute, says kids have time to make positive changes that will reduce their future risk for developing diabetes and weak bones.

“If you could patent exercise as a drug, somebody would be really, really rich,” she says in the news release.

They also say parents should pay close attention to the diet and eating behaviors of their children as preventive measures for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and reduced bone mass.

Show Sources


News release, Medical College of Georgia.

Pollock, N. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, August 2010.

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