01 April 2011

Painful, itchy eczema linked to obesity in kids

Compared to children who weren't obese, kids who became obese between the ages of two and five years old had more than three times the risk of developing eczema, a study showed.


Small children who are obese may be more likely to develop severe eczema, a new study says.

Compared to children who weren't obese, kids who became obese between the ages of two and five years old had more than three times the risk of developing eczema. If they were even younger when they became obese - babies or toddlers - their risk of the uncomfortable condition was even higher.

To make matters worse, when the skin condition occurred in the obese kids, it was more severe than usual. "The more severe cases tend to be in agony," said Dr Jonathan Silverberg, a dermatologist at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York.

The study

"It impairs their sleep, it impairs their performance in school," said Dr Silverberg, who co-authored the study.

"Children who are obese for a long time are more likely to get eczema," he said. "If you're able to reverse the obesity with weight loss, children may be less likely to develop eczema, or eczema symptoms may improve."

Using information from medical records, Dr Silverberg and his colleagues studied 414 children and adolescents with eczema and 828 health controls. Ages in the study ranged from one to 21 years.

Overall, obesity was nearly twice as common in children and adolescents with eczema. About nine of every 100 study participants with eczema were obese, compared to only five out of 100 controls, the authors reported online in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

The findings

The researchers saw more cases of eczema among those who were obese at younger ages. For instance, for every 10 kids who were obese between the ages of two and five, about six went on to develop eczema. By comparison, for every 10 kids who became obese some time after their fifth birthday, three eventually developed eczema.

"The problem is that there is no cure" for eczema, Dr Silverberg said. But by making sure that kids don't become obese, some of the risk of the skin condition might be avoided, he said.

This study does not show that being obese causes eczema, said Dr Giamila Fantuzzi, associate professor of kinesiology and nutrition at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Instead, obesity and eczema may have a common cause.

"There is definitely a link between being obese and having inflammation, and (eczema) is an inflammatory disease," Dr Fantuzzi said. (Reuters Health/March 2011)

Read more: Eczema


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Skin expert

Dr Suretha Kannenberg holds a degree in Medicine and a Masters in Dermatology from the University of Stellenbosch. She is employed as a consultant dermatologist by Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Academic Hospital, where she is involved in clinical duties and the training of medical students and dermatology residents. Her areas of interest and research include vitiligo, eczema and acne. She also performs limited private practice work in the Northern suburbs of Cape Town in general and cosmetic dermatology.

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