Childhood Obesity Link to Multiple Sclerosis

Overweight children and teenage girls more at risk for MS

child playing outside in playhouse

There may be another troubling consequence of childhood obesity: an increased chance of developing multiple sclerosis.

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A new study finds obese children and teenage girls may be more at risk for developing the chronic, debilitating central nervous system disorder.

Mary Rensel, MD, who treats pediatric MS patients at Cleveland Clinic explains, “Fat increases the inflammation in the body. Multiple sclerosis is an auto-immune condition where the immune system is set too high. If there’s too much inflammation, it can increase the risk of having a disorder associated with inflammation — like MS.”

What the study found

Kaiser Permanente researchers studied 75 children aged 2 to 18 with pediatric MS, compared to more than 900,000 kids without the disease. Fifty percent of the kids with MS were overweight or obese, compared to 36 percent of the children who didn’t have the disease.

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The study also found that the risk of developing multiple sclerosis one-and-a-half times higher for overweight girls, almost two times higher for moderately obese girls and four times higher for extremely obese girls.

The importance of controlling weight early

Childhood obesity can cause a number of health complications beyond the increased risk for MS, including diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, asthma or other breathing difficulties and emotional problems.

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Researchers stress that parents of overweight or obese children should play an active role in controlling their kids’ weight by getting them into the habits of eating healthy and getting enough exercise.

Dr. Rensel agrees, saying, “The good news is now we know. We can educate parents and patients of the importance of maintaining a healthy weight to decrease the chance of having consequences of being overweight.”

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