News Release

School-age girls with obesity are more likely to experience joint and muscle pain

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Queen Mary University of London

Girls with obesity are more likely to experience pain in their bones, joints, muscles, ligaments or tendons compared with children with a healthy weight, according to research by Queen Mary University of London. The same did not apply to boys.

Queen Mary researchers hope their findings will raise awareness that obesity may contribute to musculoskeletal problems in children.

In the study, published today in Archives of Disease in Childhood, researchers analysed anonymised information on 120,000 children, linking data from the National Child Measurement Programme with GP records. They found that girls with obesity were 1.7 times more likely than those with a healthy weight to have at least one GP consultation for a musculoskeletal symptom or diagnosis. Previous research has indicated a link between musculoskeletal problems and obesity in children, but this study is the first to observe the association within a large, ethnically diverse population in the UK, with high levels of childhood obesity and deprivation.

Knee pain was the most common symptom reported in the study, followed by back pain. The authors note that musculoskeletal problems in this context may be caused by excess weight placing additional stress on the body’s joints, but more research is needed to understand why this results in an increase in problems for girls and not boys.

The National Child Measurement Programme is a Government initiative whereby children of primary school age in England are weighed and measured at school by health professionals. The programme gathers data to understand long-term trends in childhood obesity and inform national and local authority policies.  

The research was funded by a grant from Barts Charity.

Nicola Firman, Health Data Scientist at Queen Mary University of London, said:

“Our findings demonstrate the value of linking and studying anonymised health data – without knowing the identity of any child, we were able to produce important insights into the consequences of obesity for health during childhood.”

“We hope our findings will increase awareness of the significance of poor musculoskeletal health, and drive more research into understanding the link with childhood obesity. More needs to be done at policy-level to support families to prevent obesity and potentially reduce the risk of musculoskeletal pain.”

Victoria King, Director of Funding and Impact at Barts Charity said:

“With our funding, the REAL-HEALTH team at Queen Mary is using anonymised health data to gain insights and build tools that are directly impacting health outcomes locally. We are excited to see the results of this first-of-its-kind study from the team, showing an association between childhood obesity and musculoskeletal disorders in a diverse UK population. Building a stronger evidence base on the possible causes of joint and muscle pain could lead to policy changes that will improve the health of children in East London, as well as nationally.”



Notes for editors


Sophia Prout, Faculty Communications Manager – Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London or


Article information:

‘Are children living with obesity more likely to experience musculoskeletal symptoms during childhood? A linked longitudinal cohort study using primary care records’ by Nicola Firman, Kate Homer, Gill Harper, John Robson and Carol Dezateux will be published at 23.30 GMT (UK) on 12 March 2024 in Archives of Disease in Childhood.

The article will be available at the following link after publication:

An embargoed copy of the paper is available upon request.


About Queen Mary University of London

At Queen Mary University of London, we believe that a diversity of ideas helps us achieve the previously unthinkable.

Throughout our history, we’ve fostered social justice and improved lives through academic excellence. And we continue to live and breathe this spirit today, not because it’s simply ‘the right thing to do’ but for what it helps us achieve and the intellectual brilliance it delivers.

Our reformer heritage informs our conviction that great ideas can and should come from anywhere. It’s an approach that has brought results across the globe, from the communities of east London to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

We continue to embrace diversity of thought and opinion in everything we do, in the belief that when views collide, disciplines interact, and perspectives intersect, truly original thought takes form.


About Barts Charity

Barts Charity brings brilliant ideas, ground-breaking research and transformational healthcare to life in East London. Together with our partners, we make better healthcare possible, funding brilliant ideas and ground-breaking research to transform lives.

As the dedicated charity for Barts Health NHS Trust, we support St Bartholomew’s, Whipps Cross, Newham, Royal London, and Mile End hospitals, as well as the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at Queen Mary University of London. We also support researchers at the School of Health & Psychological Sciences at City, University of London. Visit

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