April 21, 2024

Children who are obese may face more than double the risk of developing multiple sclerosis as adults, a study suggests.

MS can affect the brain and spinal cord, causing a range of potential symptoms, including problems with vision, arm or leg movement, sensation or balance. It is a lifelong condition that can sometimes cause severe disability.

The findings of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm will be presented at the European Congress Obesity in Venice in May.

Previous evidence has suggested a link between high body mass index (BMI) in adolescence and an increased risk of MS. But most of these studies were retrospective in design and used self-reported data.

Researchers involved in the new study sought to predict the risk of developing MS in a large group of obese children compared to the general population.

Academics analyzed data from the Swedish Childhood Obesity Treatment Registry. The database, known as Boris, is one of the world’s largest registries for the treatment of childhood obesity.

The research team looked at data on children aged two to 19 who joined the register between 1995 and 2020, and compared their information with that of children in the general population.

The study included data on more than 21,600 children with obesity, who started treatment for obesity when they were an average age of 11, and more than 100,000 children without obesity.

Children involved in the study were tracked for an average of six years. During the follow-up period, MS was diagnosed in 28 of those with obesity (0.13% of the group) and 58 in the group without obesity (0.06%).

The average age of MS diagnosis was comparable between groups, with patients diagnosed at an average age of 23.

The authors acknowledged the limitations of their study, but said, “Despite the limited follow-up time, our findings highlight that childhood obesity increases the susceptibility of early-onset MS more than twofold.”

The study’s authors, Emilia Hagman, an associate professor, and Prof Claude Marcus, said: “One of the consequences of childhood obesity is that it causes a low-grade but chronic inflammation, and most likely this inflammation increases the risk of various diseases such as MS.

“Chronic low-grade inflammation is also believed to increase the risk for other diseases such as asthma, arthritis, type 1 diabetes and some forms of cancer. However, we know that weight loss reduces the inflammation and most likely the risk of developing such diseases.”

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