A new study found that multiple sclerosis (MS) appears to be more common in overweight and obese girls.
Extremely obese girls were three to four times more likely to develop multiple sclerosis or its precursor, clinically isolated syndrome (CIS), than girls with a normal body weight. However, the study didn’t prove that extra weight in childhood caused multiple sclerosis. Instead, it suggested that increased levels of obesity in adolescents could mean more MS diagnoses.
The study researchers said, “Our findings suggest the childhood obesity epidemic is likely to lead to increased morbidity from MS/CIS, particularly in adolescent girls.”
Multiple sclerosis is a rare neurological disease in which the body’s immune system eats away at the protective sheath that covers the nerves. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms vary depending on the location of the affected nerve fibers. Symptoms can include numbness or weakness in one or more limbs, loss of vision, slurred speech, or tremors.
Over half of children and teens with MS were overweight or obese compared to 37 percent of other adolescents. While being overweight or obese was linked to a slightly higher chance of MS in girls, there was no clear pattern between boys’ weight and their chances of developing the disease.
Kassandra Munger, who studies multiple sclerosis at the Harvard School of Public Health, said, “Obesity is increasing the risk of so many different kinds of diseases. This current study now adds to the evidence that it’s also dangerous and increases the risk of neurological diseases, such as multiple sclerosis.”
About 400,000 people in the United States suffer from multiple sclerosis. It is generally diagnosed in adulthood, and only one or two out of every 100,000 children are diagnosed with pediatric MS.