Obesity Linked to Headaches in Children

Monday, September 15, 2008

A link between obesity and frequency of headaches in children and teens has been found in a new, multi-center study led by a neurologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

The more obese children and teens are, the greater the frequency and disabling nature of the headaches they get, according to the study, published online in Headache, the journal of the American Headache Society.

When obese and overweight children and teens lose weight, the frequency of headaches and the disability they produce improves, according to Andrew Hershey, MD, PhD, director of the Headache Center at Cincinnati Children’s, and lead author of the study, which was conducted at seven pediatric headache centers in the United States.

"Among children who are overweight at their initial headache center visit, a change in their body mass index (BMI) was associated with a change in the frequency of their headaches over time," says Dr. Hershey. "While we can’t claim a causal link between obesity and headache, the association suggests some physiological or environmental processes that are common to both conditions."

The study, which is the first to examine the prevalence of obesity among children who have headaches, shows that 17.5 percent of pediatric headache sufferers are overweight, while 34.1 percent are either at risk for overweight or are overweight. This is similar to rates of overweight in the general pediatric population.

The researchers collected data on 913 patients at the seven headaches centers. They also calculated BMI and determined BMI percentile. They collected the same data on patients at three- and six-month follow-up visits for comparison. For children who were obese or at risk for being overweight at their initial visit, change in BMI was significantly correlated with change of headache frequency at follow-up visits.

The results of the study have important implications for clinical practice, according to Dr. Hershey. "Physicians should actively consider a child’s weight in the context of treatment for headaches," he says. "They should routinely assess weight and BMI and be prepared to offer weight control information at the initial treatment visit."

The study was made possible by a grant from the American Headache Society (AHS). The seven centers at which the study was conducted are involved with the pediatric-adolescent Section of the AHS.

Contact Information

Jim Feuer, 513-636-4656,