Obesity May Increase the Risk of Multiple Sclerosis in Girls

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Overweight and obese girls are significantly more likely to develop multiple sclerosis. VauVau/Flickr

Obesity may significantly increase the risk of developing multiple sclerosis in children and adolescent girls, a new study has revealed.

The latest study published in the journal of the American Academy of Neurology found that overweight girls were 1.5 times more likely to develop the incurable, debilitating disease compared to girls with normal weight.  The study also found that moderately obese girls were 1.8 more likely to develop multiple sclerosis and extremely obese girls were an overwhelming four times more likely to develop the disease.

What's more, in light of the growing obesity epidemic, researchers fear that the rates of multiple sclerosis among children and teens will continue to rise.

"Over the last 30 years, childhood obesity has tripled," said study author Dr. Annette Langer-Gould, with the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation in Pasadena and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. "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."

Researcher compared the body mass index of 75 children and adolescents between the ages of two and 18 who were diagnosed with pediatric MS with 913,097 children who did not have the disease. Researchers said they had obtained the participants' body mass index from before symptoms of MS had appeared.

Researchers said that all participants were grouped into weight classes of normal eight, overweight, moderate obesity and extreme obesity.

Researchers found that a total of 50.6 percent of the children with MS were overweight or obese compared to 36.6 of children who did not have MS.  The findings showed that overweight girls were 1.5 times more likely to develop the disease, moderately obese girls were 1.8 times more likely and extremely obese girls were 4 times more likely to develop the multiple sclerosis. Researchers noted that the same association was not found in boys.

"Even though pediatric MS remains rare, our study suggests that parents or caregivers of obese teenagers should pay attention to symptoms such as tingling and numbness or limb weakness, and bring them to a doctor's attention," Langer-Gould concluded.

Multiple sclerosis is a potentially debilitating and irreversible disease where the patient's immune system destroys at the protective myelin sheath that covers their nerves.  Damage to the myelin sheath causes interference in the communication between the brain, spinal cord and other parts of the body.

While there is no cure for multiple sclerosis, treatments may help MS attacks, manage symptoms and reduce the progression of the disease. 

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