The research was conducted at the University of York and presented this week at this year’s European Congress on Obesity in Glasgow.
“Children with obesity had a 36% increased risk the risk of visiting the emergency department”
Unlike adult obesity, little was previously known about the healthcare burden of excess weight in children, noted those behind the new study.
As a result, the York authors sought to analyse the association between being overweight or obese with the level of health service utilisation in childhood.
The researchers based their analysis on observational studies selected from a number of databases of medical research up to June 2018.
Any papers that assessed the impact of being overweight or obese on health service use by children, aged 0 to 18 years, were selected for further detailed study.
In total, 35 studies were eligible for the final review. Thirteen studies reported on outpatient visits, nine on accident and emergency visits, five on hospital admission, and four on length of stay.
Only seven of these studies reported sufficient data to be included in the meta-analysis – six of which were from the US and one from Canada.
The authors found that, compared to healthy weight children, those who were obese were on average 36% more likely to visit A&E, while overweight children were 17% more likely to do so.
Obesity was also found to be associated with an average 9% increase in visits to outpatient services, although this was only borderline statistically significant.
The researchers observed that for other health service measures such as hospital admission rate or length of stay, the association with excess weight was mixed.
“This review also identified that health service use is defined by different parameters”
For example, some studies reported an increase, while others reported a decrease in health service utilisation.
Across all the eligible studies, the researchers found an increase in the use of emergency department and outpatient services by obese and overweight children.
However, they noted that the strength of association between child weight and the likelihood of a visit was variable.
The authors said: “This review and meta-analysis identified an increased use of emergency and outpatient services in obese children.
“Across the seven studies combined, children with obesity had a 36% increased risk the risk of visiting the emergency department compared with normal weight children,” they said.
They added: “This review also identified that health service use is defined by different parameters and further research is required to better understand the association of childhood obesity with these broad range of parameters.”