Obese Youth Likelier to Have Gallstones

Gallstone risk increases among children with higher BMIs

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) As children's waistlines continue to grow across the U.S., so do their chances of getting gallstones.

A new study found that overweight children and adolescents on average were twice as likely to have gallstone disease compared to normal weight children.

"Be mindful of your weight."

The study, under the direction of Corinna Koebnick, PhD, of the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation, is one of several research and community programs aiming to identify and treat childhood obesity.

Researchers looked at more than 510,000 electronic health records of children ages 10 to 19 who were members of Kaiser Permanente Southern California. They excluded those who were pregnant and who had gallstones for more than two years.

Gallstones block the passage of bile into the intestines and cause abdominal pain and nausea, although many people with gallstones have no symptoms.

It can damage or infect the gallbladder, pancreas or liver, and can be fatal if left untreated.

Across the US, 20 million adults have gallstones.

"Although gallstones are relatively common in obese adults, gallstones in children and adolescents have been historically rare," Dr. Koebnick said.

"These findings add to an alarming trend—youth who are obese or extremely obese are more likely to have diseases we normally think of as adult conditions."

From the records, researchers gathered information on children's ethnicity and race, as well as their weight and height to find their body mass index.

Moderately obese children, whose BMI measured between 30-35 kilograms per square meter, were on average four times as likely to have gallstones; the odds increased six-fold for kids classified as extremely obese, or whose BMI was greater than 35 kilograms.

Hispanic youth were more likely to have gallstones than youth of other ethnicities. Researchers also found that girls were more likely to have gallstones than boys.

Compared to girls who were underweight or of normal weight, girls in the obese range were six times more likely to have gallstones. And the chances for girls who were extremely obese increased to eight.

Obese and severely obese boys were more than twice and three times as likely respectively to have gallstones compared to underweight and normal weight boys.

"The high rate of gallstones in obese children and adolescents may surprise pediatricians because gallstone disease is generally regarded as an adult disorder," said George Longstreth, MD, senior study author and a gastroenterologist at Kaiser Permanente San Diego Medical Center.

"Since obesity is so common, pediatricians must learn to recognize the characteristic symptoms of gallstones," he said.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders funded the study. The authors do not declare any conflicts of interest.

The study was published in the September issue of the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 1, 2012
Last Updated:
September 3, 2012