Hypermobile Flatfoot And Pediatric Obesity: What You Should Know

Ron Raducanu, DPM, FACFAS

   The last of the Taiwanese studies published recently evaluated flatfoot in children between the ages of 5 and 13.12 Researchers found that when combining the children they considered “overweight” and “obese,” there was a very large percentage who had flat feet. Fifty-six percent of children they classified as “obese” had flat feet and 31 percent of those who were “overweight” had flat feet. The one observation with this study that one should note is that the “normal” children had a 27 percent prevalence of obesity. This calls the statistical analysis of the authors’ data into question but we cannot overlook their conclusion.

In Search Of EBM For Flatfoot Treatment In Obese Pediatric Patients

Much of the research shows that to some degree or another, obesity in childhood can lead to flatfoot. Now how do we transfer this knowledge to the care of this pediatric population?
Much of the studies talk about the foot type but few refer to the consequences of this foot type. One journal article that talks about obesity as a potential cause of flatfoot also expresses concern that one should treat this carefully and consider patient adherence and parental involvement in following the treatment plan.13

   There are only two papers relating the factors of pediatric obesity, flatfoot and pain. The relationship of the three factors in these articles is not direct but the authors talk of the factors in broader terms as potential explanations for the foot type causing pain. One study discusses pediatric obesity as a potential cause for flatfoot pain via Sever’s disease.14 The other study discusses an increase in symptoms in pediatric patients with rigid flat feet if the patients were in the 95th percentile or higher in weight for their age.15 Once again, there is no literature that offers evidence to suggest a youngster who is obese will eventually become an adult with painful flatfoot.

   This is where the vacuum exists. This is our biggest hurdle to overcome to begin the process of justifying the treatment of the pediatric flatfoot. Whether the flatfoot is caused by obesity, connective tissue disorders, severe equinus, compensated metatarsus adductus or the myriad of other potential causes, our next hurdle is to show that left to its own devices, this foot type will cause lasting pain and potential disability if left untreated or supported.

   The biggest problem we encounter is how to design a study protocol to test this theory. It is unreasonable to expect that a study protocol would suggest having a treatment group and a control group. In such a hypothetical study, one group would wear orthotics or undergo corrective surgery to reconstruct the foot into a more “neutral” and functional foot type. The other group would just have simple observation. This study would follow the “subjects” over the course of a generation and the results would be calculated regardless of the patient’s lifestyle or job choice. The “subjects” would be followed by a group of practitioners or via a multicenter study over the course of the doctors’ careers and would only be subject to statistical scrutiny as the pediatric patients mature into their adult lives, or beginning in their late teens. 

   Until a project such as the one described occurs, the evidence basis to justify treatment of flatfoot in obese pediatric patients remains elusive.

   Dr. Raducanu is the President and a Fellow of the American College of Foot and Ankle Pediatrics. He is also a Fellow of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. Dr. Raducanu is in private practice in Philadelphia.


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