Obese children twice as likely to develop multiple sclerosis, study suggests | Obesity

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 serious disability.

The findings from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm are to be presented at the European Congress on 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 with the new study sought to prospectively evaluate the risk of developing MS in a large cohort of obese children compared with the general population.

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

The research team looked at data on children aged two to 19 who joined the registry 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 on average when they were 23.

The authors acknowledged limitations to their study but said: “Despite the limited follow-up time, our findings highlight that obesity in childhood 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 effects of obesity in childhood is that it causes a low-grade but chronic inflammation, and most probably this inflammation increases the risk to develop several diseases such as MS.

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

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