Teenage Obesity is Associated with Increased Prescription Medication Use

by Dr Sam Girgis on October 5, 2012

Childhood obesity is a growing problem in the United States and throughout the world.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that 17 percent of children are obese.  In Canada, it is estimated that 26 percent of children are overweight and 8 percent are obese.  Childhood obesity can cause numerous mental and physical health problems.  Children who are overweight or obese can suffer from social isolation, discrimination, and low self-esteem.  Childhood obesity is also associated with medical problems that include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes mellitus, asthma, arthritis and fatty liver disease.  As a result of the numerous co-morbidities that are associated with obesity, the condition can put a considerable amount of strain upon the healthcare system and require a significant amount of healthcare resources.  In addition, the treatment of obesity associated conditions can require numerous medications.

Researchers, led by Dr. Paul Veugelers from the University of Alberta, have found that teenagers with obesity are 59 percent more likely to require the use of prescription medications as compared to their normal weight peers.  The results of their study were published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.  The researchers conducted a cross-sectional analysis using data from the Canadian Health Measures Survey.  The study included 2,087 children and adolescents between the ages of 6 to 19 years.  Statistical regression was used to evaluate the association between body mass index and the number and type of medications used by the study participants.

The authors wrote, “Our study demonstrates that prescription medication usage was higher among overweight and obese adolescents relative to their normal weight peers. Use of [over the counter] medications did not differ by weight status whereas [natural health product] use was more common in normal weight children. In older children, overweight and obese children were more frequent users of nervous system and respiratory medications. Within the respiratory medication class, drugs for the treatment of obstructive airways disease were more often used by overweight and obese children than by their normal weight peers”.

The authors also wrote, “The results from our study confirm our hypothesis that the higher healthcare use observed in overweight and obese children is paralleled by a more frequent use of prescription drugs… in the 12–19 years age group, overweight and obese children and youth took prescription drugs 59% more frequently than those in the normal weight group…The increased medication use in this group further adds to the burden on healthcare systems due to the obesity epidemic”.

This study provides evidence for the notion that obesity and its associated medical conditions are more costly to treat and require more prescription medications.  Childhood obesity is especially troubling because the health impact can translate into negative adult health consequences.  Not only is this troublesome on an individual health basis, but it is also a concern as a public health issue.  More needs to be done to prevent and reverse childhood obesity in order to lessen the negative effects on the health of our children.  This is vitally important not only for the health of our children, but also for the overall health of our nations.



Stefan Kuhle et al. “Medication use in normal weight and overweight children in a nationally representative sample of Canadian childrenArch Dis Child 2012; 97:842-847 doi: 10.1136/archdischild-2011-301195

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