Girls as young as four are reporting knee and back pain linked to being overweight, experts have warned.

Researchers have found that girls are almost twice as likely to go to the doctor about musculoskeletal pain than boys.

The strain of carrying too much weight is causing joint pain among very young girls, with calls for greater action against obesity in children.

Researchers from Queen Mary University of London examined data from 120,000 children from the National Child Measurement Programme, alongside GP records.

Looking at younger children, they found that 3% of reception children and 8% of year 6 children had been to the doctor at least once about joint issues.

These figures were looked at alongside obesity statistics, with just under 9% of boys classed as obese in reception, compared to 7.1% of girls.

This figure rose to 19.9% of boys in year 6 and 14.4% of girls.

Researcher Nicola Firman said: “We hope our findings will increase awareness of the significance of poor musculoskeletal health and drive more research into understanding the link with childhood obesity.

“More needs to be done at policy-level to support families to prevent obesity and potentially reduce the risk of musculoskeletal pain.”

The findings showed that 194 children aged four and five and 875 children in year 6 had repeat consultations about joint pain.

Overall, it was more common for girls to see a doctor.

Girls in reception with overweight were 24% more likely to visit their doctor at least once about musculoskeletal pain, with this figure rising to 67% if they had obesity.

Musculoskeletal issues in childhood can have a significant effect on quality of life, both in childhood and adulthood, researchers say.

The team said more research is needed to look at why boys are less likely to see a doctor about musculoskeletal problems.

They said: “In turn, increased weight has the potential to contribute to continued musculoskeletal pain and consequently children may experience a perpetual obesity/musculoskeletal pain cycle as adolescents and adults.”

The study was funded by Barts Charity and Victoria King, from the organisation, said: “Building a stronger evidence base on the possible causes of joint and muscle pain could lead to policy changes that will improve the health of children in East London, as well as nationally.”

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