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Obesity in childhood leads to poor posture and back pain

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Being overweight as a child and adolescent can lead to poor postures linked to back pain, according to new research by Curtin University’s School of Physiotherapy, the Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute and the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research.

The research team compared the Body Mass Index (BMI, a common benchmark for obesity), of 1,373 children from the long-term Raine Study over a period of 12 years (from the age of three to 14) with specific standing postures measured at age 14.

Results showed there was a clear relationship between BMI and posture.

Four main posture groups were defined – neutral, flat, sway and hyperlordotic. These were categorised by angular measurements of the pelvis and spine of the teenagers photographed from side on.

“We found that teenagers with higher BMI were more likely to stand with non-neutral postures, placing more strain on the spine and increasing the risk of back pain,” Dr Anne Smith, Senior Lecturer at the School of Physiotherapy said.

“This relationship between BMI and spinal posture is concerning, as it suggests increasing load on the spine over the growth period may change the structure of the spine.”

The findings also indicated that BMI tracks fairly steadily from early life through to adolescence.

“We found that in terms of BMI for most teenagers where you are at three is where you are at 14,” Dr Smith said.

“There was just one group out of the six that had a pattern of increasing BMI.

”This is an important study, because it highlights obesity as an important factor for bone and joint health and development, in addition to being a risk factor for many other well known health problems. 

“Our findings emphasise the importance of preventing obesity as early in life as possible.”

The next step will be to look at data from the teenagers at 17 years of age, to explore in more detail the links between posture, obesity and back pain.


Dr Anne Smith, Senior Lecturer and Postdoctoral research Fellow, School of Physiotherapy, Faculty of Health Sciences, Curtin University
Tel: 08 9266 3650; Mobile: 0421 572 987 Email:

Notes to editor:

About the Raine Study
The Raine Study is jointly conducted by the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research and The School of Women’s and Infant’s Health at the University of Western Australia. The study started in 1989, when 2900 pregnant women were recruited into a research study at King Edward Memorial Hospital to examine ultrasound imaging. The mothers were assessed during pregnancy and information was collected on the mother and the father, for example diet, exercise, work, health, etc. After the children were born, they were assessed at birth, at one year, then two, three and five years of age.  Further follow-ups of the cohort have been conducted at eight, 10, 14, 17 and now 20 years of age. Find out more at

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