Overweight children and teenagers may be at elevated risk of developing chronic headaches, a new study suggests. The good news though is that researchers found that weight loss may, in turn, cut headache frequency.
The study, which included 913 children and teens with headache complaints, found that as the children's body mass index increased, so too did the frequency of their headaches.
Body mass index, or BMI, is a measure of weight in relation to height. Studies of adults have suggested a link between BMI and chronic headache, with some indicating that obesity may be a risk factor for chronic daily headaches.
Little, however, has been known about the relationship between weight and headaches in children.
The current study, led by Dr Andrew D. Hershey of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Centre, involved patients seen at one of seven US paediatric headache centres. The researchers assessed 913 children and teenagers and then followed a subgroup for up to six months.
Headache risk goes up with BMI
Of the whole study group, 17.5% were overweight or obese, while another 33% were at risk of becoming so. In general, the researchers found, the frequency of the children's headache bouts increased in tandem with their BMI.
In the subgroup of children who were followed for up to six months, however, those who managed to shed some weight tended have a decline in the number of headache episodes. Hershey and his colleagues reported the findings online in the medical journal Headache.
The reasons for the headache-weight link are not clear. It's possible, the researchers explain, that obesity does not cause headaches, but instead exacerbates them - resulting in more frequent, more debilitating headaches.
One theory is that inflammatory substances associated with obesity may worsen headaches.
The findings, according to Hershey's team, suggest that doctors caring for children with headaches should pay some attention to their weight. Children who are overweight may need referrals for behavioural therapy to help them shed their excess pounds, the researchers suggest. – (Reuters Health, September 2008)
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