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Obes Rev. 2011 Jan;12(1):26-36. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2009.00706.x.

Obesity: the new childhood disability?

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Nutritional Physiology Research Centre, Sansom Institute for Health Research, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia.


This review addresses the impact of obesity on paediatric physical functioning utilizing the World Health Organization International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health Framework (ICF). The ICF encompasses functioning (as it relates to all body functions and structures), activities (undertaking a particular task) and participation (in a life situation) with disability referring to impairments in body functions/structures, activity restrictions or participation limitations. Electronic databases were searched for peer-reviewed studies published in English prior to May 2009 that examined aspects of physical functioning in children (≤18 years). Eligible studies (N = 104) were ranked by design and synthesized descriptively. Childhood obesity was found to be associated with deficits in function, including impaired cardiorespiratory fitness and performance of motor tasks; and there was some limited evidence of increased musculoskeletal pain and decrements in muscle strength, gait and balance. Health-related quality of life and the subset of physical functioning was inversely related to weight status. However, studies investigating impacts of obesity on wider activity and participation were lacking. Further research utilizing the ICF is required to identify and better characterize the effects of paediatric obesity on physical function, activity and participation, thereby improving targets for intervention to reduce disability in this population.

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