Dr. Hershey says overweight kids disabled more by migraines
This CBS News story reveals yet another study showing the adverse effects of childhood obesity in America. But this time it's not diabetes, high blood pressure, or even heart problems. It's something even worse to a child -- an irritating, pounding migraine headache!
Lead researcher Dr. Andrew D. Hershey, M.D., Ph.D., pediatric neurologist and director of the Headache Center at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, presented his findings at the 48th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Headache Society this week in Los Angeles, California.
The study involved 466 children between the ages of 3-18 years old who have dealt with headache problems. In fact, the overwhelming majority of them (91.1 percent) were diagnosed with migraine headaches while the rest of them had chronic headache problems not associated with migraines.
What Dr. Hershey and his researcher found was that children who had a body mass index (BMI) in the 95th percentile or higher were over one-third (36 percent) MORE likely to have and develop headaches than their skinnier peers. Of the children involved in the study, 21.1 percent of them were found to be clinically overweight according to their BMI calculation compared with just 15.5 percent of children in the general population.
Additionally, the children involved in the study experienced an average of 11 migraine headaches a month compared with 1-2 headaches for the 10 percent of the general population of children who experience these types of headaches. But Dr. Hershey said this was not unexpected considering the children in the study were already severe headache sufferers being treated for such.
However, what was not expected in his study was the discovery that the overweight and obese children had more frequent headaches than the skinnier children did. This, in turn, caused those children to miss days from school and other extracurricular activities.
"Kids who are obese are also more likely to have increased disability from their headache," Dr. Hershey found.
A "disability score" was assigned based on absence from school and social activities for the study. On a scale where 30-50 is considered "moderate," the overweight as well as the children at risk for becoming overweight had a combined average disability score of about 42.5 compared with just 28.7 for the children who were in "normal" weight range.
I remember what it was like being an overweight child. But I couldn't tell at the time that my quality of life was so much worse off than the other kids around me. I just thought everyone experienced this and never gave it a second thought.
When I was in school, I never wanted to miss a day if at all possible. I know, that's weird for a child, but that was my mentality. If school was in session, then I HAD to be there. Don't ask me why, but that's the way I was. From the seventh grade until I graduated high school, I did not miss a single day of school. I was only one of four students at my graduation from Bolivar Central High School in Bolivar, Tennessee in 1989 who was recognized for not missing school throughout my high school years. That was a proud moment for me.
But there were a few times I came close to missing because of a cold, headache, or other such physical ailment. Nevertheless, I pushed through it and made myself go. I even had my parents asking me to stay home from school when I was slightly sick, but I would beg for them to let me go to keep my streak alive. Again, I know, I was an odd kid (and some would say an even odder adult! LOL!).
This idea that migraines are worse for children who are obese because it makes them unable to be involved in the regular day-to-day activities may have to do more with the laziness of kids these days, especially those with a weight problem, than it does with a pain in their temple. I'm not minimizing the disabling impact that a migraine headache can have, but it seems strange to me that weight itself would be connected to the headaches at all.
A more likely scenario is for a chubby child to TELL his mom he has a headache so he can stay home from school when actually he just doesn't want to go to school because of a poor self-image or the other kids are teasing him. How can we really know for sure that these kids are having any pain at all in their head? Hmmm? Has anyone even attempted to look into that possibility?
Let me tell you, childhood for a fat kid is ruthless. You're picked on, spat upon, emotionally tortured, physically abused, laughed at as a joke, the butt of practical jokes, shoved around like a worthless sack of spoiled potatoes, and left wondering why God even allowed you to be born in the first place. Going through THAT part of my life again is something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. But it happened and I'll never forget how it made me feel as a person.
This would be an interesting area for Dr. Hershey to team up with some child psychologists to see if there is any merit to my theory that a lot of the overweight children quite possibly are faking their migraine headaches to avoid the scorn of their classmates. And, as I shared in this blog post last week, the problem could even be coming from the child's home life. These are all very real possibilities.
What do the results of this study actually mean? Does this now verifiably prove being overweight as a child will automatically mean you'll have migraine headaches? Dr. Hershey doesn't believe that is the case.
"Obesity doesn't cause you to have a migraine," he said.
Dr. Hershey couldn't help but wonder: "If we treat their obesity, will their headache go away or improve?"
This study coincides with an adult migraine study by Dr. Richard Lipton
Previous research by Dr. Richard Lipton published in the December 14, 2005 issue of the journal Neurology on 30,000 overweight and obese adults has already shown there to be a causal relationship between weight and the frequency/severity of migraine headaches as compared with skinnier people. Dr. Lipton said this new study on children "makes perfect sense."
"What we know in adults is that obesity probably doesn't predispose you to migraine, but if you are obese it makes your migraine more disabling," Dr. Lipton remarked.
Dr. Hershey, though, acknowledges the mystery that nobody can explain -- why is this happening?
"The question of whether the obesity directly leads to the headache is not solved," Dr. Hershey explained.
However, he theorizes it could have to do with the overweight children not exercising as much which leads to weight gain. But do they not exercise because their quality of life is diminished so much from the headaches or are they simply not working off the stress to release the natural endorphins that come from regular exercise which would help ward off the headaches? Future studies will need to look into these questions more thoroughly.
Another theory is that carrying around extra weight makes it hard to sleep which then leads to becoming tired, irritable and one big headache -- not just for the child, but for the parent as well.
The children involved in the study are still being monitored as they go through weight loss treatment options to see if the headaches improve. That will be the primary focus of the next phase of the study.
Dr. Hershey concluded that overweight children should not just be given a headache medicine to treat their migraines, but also need to be taught certain lifestyle changes as well, including an excellent diet, regular exercise and adequate sleep. I'll only add that this recent study found that olive oil acts as a natural cure for headaches, too.
Kudos to a doctor who actually prescribes a change in habits rather than prescription drugs to battle a physical problem. Bravo, Dr. Hershey, bravo! You are certainly the exception in this day and age of got-a-hurt, pop-a-pill!
Your can e-mail Dr. Andrew Hershey about his study at email@example.com.
6-25-06 UPDATE: Our Swedish friend Dr. Annika Dahlqvist blogged about this post as well. Click here for a rough translation of what she said. By the way, have you ever wanted to see what my blog looks like in Swedish? Check THIS out! Whoa, this is pretty cool!