Background: According to the most recent data, an estimated 17.1% of children in the United States are obese. We found no published studies documenting the prevalence of obesity in ambulatory children with cerebral palsy. The purpose of this study was to document the prevalence of obesity in ambulatory children with cerebral palsy and examine the trend in this measure over the last decade.
Methods: A retrospective review was performed to analyze the age, gender, height, weight, physical classification of the cerebral palsy, and functional level as determined with the Gross Motor Function Classification System (GMFCS) of all children with cerebral palsy who had a gait analysis performed in the Motion Analysis Laboratory of our institution between January 1994 and December 2004. This information was used to determine the prevalence of obesity (a body mass index in or above the 95th percentile of the sex-specific body mass index-for-age growth chart) in this population and its relationship to age, gender, the physical classification of the cerebral palsy, and the GMFCS level.
Results: When the data were grouped into three time periods (1994 to 1997, 1998 to 2002, and 2003 to 2004), a significant increase in obesity over time was noted (p = 0.017). The prevalences increased from 7.7% to 14% to 16.5% in the respective time periods. The prevalence increased over time in both males and females, those with hemiplegia and those with diplegia, and those with level-I function and those with level-II function according to the GMFCS. The association between obesity and time was significant in the female (p = 0.015), hemiplegic (p = 0.049), less than eight-year-old (p = 0.020), and GMFCS level-II (p = 0.003) groups. We found that the time period was independently associated with obesity when we controlled for age, type of cerebral palsy, and GMFCS level (p = 0.014). Children with a lesser degree of involvement (GMFCS level II) had twice the odds of becoming obese than did children with greater involvement (GMFCS level III).
Conclusions: The prevalence of obesity in ambulatory children with cerebral palsy has risen over the last decade from 7.7% to 16.5%, an increase that is similar to that seen in the general pediatric population in the United States. This finding may have a major impact on the general health and functional abilities of these children as they reach adult life.