A new study published in the online journal Neurology shows that obese girls are more likely to develop multiple sclerosis or MS-like illnesses. Researchers found that the risk for MS was one-and-a-half times higher for girls who are slightly obese, two times higher for those who are moderately obese, and nearly four times higher for girls who are extremely obese.
The researchers looked at the body mass index, or BMI, of over 900,000 children’s records from the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Children’s health study. Of the children ages two to eighteen, 75 of them had been diagnosed with pediatric multiple sclerosis. Over 50% of those with MS were obese, with the vast majority being female.
“Over the last 30 years, childhood obesity has tripled,” said study author Dr. Annette Langer-Gould, a neurologist and regional MS expert for Kaiser Permanente in Southern California. “In our study, the risk of pediatric MS was highest among moderately and extremely obese teenage girls, suggesting that the rate of pediatric MS cases is likely to increase as the childhood obesity epidemic continues.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that child obesity has doubled and, for teenagers, tripled over the last 30 years. Dr. Tanuja Chitnis, a neurologist and pediatric MS specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children says that 10 years ago MS was not even recognized as a childhood disease.
“This is one more piece of evidence, but really in order to make a definitive link, you need at least five or six studies showing the same thing,” she says. “You need to have an underlying biological reason, which still has not been worked out, and you need to show that blocking or interfering with the biological mechanism can prevent the disease.”
“The overall message is that there are an increasing number of diseases associated with obesity and particularly early obesity and that it’s an important risk factor to try to mitigate. It is something you can do something about,” Chitnis says.
Pediatric neurologist Dr. Jayne Ness has worked with more than 100 child patients with multiple sclerosis. She also has noted that the majority of them were obese.
“Does this mean that obesity is a risk factor for MS? We don’t know yet,” Ness said. “It’s one more piece that helps us potentially better understand some of the underlying triggers of pediatric MS and may help us understand MS in general.”
Is this an epidemic for girls? Yet another study found a link between multiple sclerosis and adult women’s weight, too, as the videos below explain: