Medication (Over?) Use in Overweight Canadian Kids

Excess weight is often (but not always) associated with health problems, and the latter can certainly often contribute to weight gain – even in kids!

A study by Stefan Kuhle and colleagues from the University of Alberta, published in the Archives of Diseases of Childhood, shows that overweight and obese Canadian kids use more medications than do normal weight kids.

The authors compare medication use between normal weight and overweight children (n=2,087) in a nationally representative sample from the Canadian Health Measures Survey 2007/2009, a cross-sectional survey assessing indicators of health and wellness in Canadian.

While there was no difference in the frequency of prescription, over-the-counter and natural health product (NHP) medication use between normal weight and overweight/obese 6-11 year olds, overweight/obese 12-19 year olds reported the use of prescription medication about 60% more often than their normal weight peers, especially for nervous system and respiratory problems. On the other hand, they were about 50% less likely to report the use of NHP medications.

As the authors note,

“With an overweight/obesity prevalence of 28% in the sample and 59% higher medication costs, approximately 14% of drug expenditures in this age group may be attributed to overweight and obesity.”

Less concerning than the cost associated with this increased use of medications is the question of why these kids develop obesity and related health problems in the first place.

It is particularly noteworthy that the use of drugs for the treatment of obstructive respiratory disorders was almost twice as high in the overweight/obese kids than in their normal weight peers.

Given that asthma is notoriously overdiagnosed in obese adults, I wonder how much of these drugs may be overprescribed in these kids.

In my own experience in adults, many admit that symptoms of ‘asthma’ were often a convenient way of getting out of gym class (as were ‘menstrual’ cramps). Anecdotally, I have the impression that this was more commonly reported in my female patients, who often recall gym class during their peri-pubertal years as particularly unpleasant (the fact that they often had to wear bras before any of the other girls in their class did not exactly help).

Nevertheless, the numbers are concerning and certainly an indicator that overweight and obese kids may have more health problems than their peers.

I wonder how many of my readers can remember having to take asthma or other meds as kids and how these problems may have contributed to their current health status.

Edmonton, Alberta

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ResearchBlogging.orgKuhle S, Fung C, & Veugelers PJ (2012). Medication use in normal weight and overweight children in a nationally representative sample of Canadian children. Archives of disease in childhood PMID: 22833408