U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Increased Gallstone Disease in Obese Children and Adolescents

Researchers have identified another health consequence of obesity in youth—increased risk for gallstones. A common, costly, and often painful condition in adults, gallstones were thought to be rare in children and adolescents. However, as with other adult diseases that are now developing at earlier ages in parallel with the childhood obesity epidemic, gallstones may also become more prevalent in youth. Previous studies had suggested a link between obesity and gallstones in children, as is the case in adults, but those studies had analyzed only a few individuals. To investigate further, researchers in the current study reviewed the electronic health records of over 500,000 youth, ages 10 to 19, who were participating in the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Children’s Health Study. The researchers assessed whether the children and adolescents were underweight, normal weight, overweight, moderately obese, or extremely obese, and they identified 766 youth who had gallstone disease diagnosed within 2 years of enrollment in the study. The results showed that being overweight is associated with increased risk for gallstone disease, and that obesity and extreme obesity further heighten this risk. Gallstones were more common among girls than boys, particularly among obese girls, a finding that mirrors the increased risk for gallstones among obese women. The researchers also found that Hispanic youth were more likely to have gallstones than were individuals of other races/ethnicities. These results highlight the importance of further research to address both obesity and health disparities in childhood. Additionally, this study can inform current medical practice, as pediatricians may need to be increasingly aware that their young patients, particularly those who are obese, may develop gallstone disease.

Koebnick C, Smith N, Black MH, et al. Pediatric obesity and gallstone disease. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 55:328-333, 2012.​