Another Reason To Take This Growing Childhood Problem Seriously

We all want our children to have a good foundation by being healthy and active.

Multiple studies have been conducted on the rise in childhood obesity due to poor diet and physical inactivity, and the many health risks associated with it.

Now, a preliminary medical study has been released which makes a connection between childhood and teen obesity and Multiple Sclerosis.

And the results seem to point in particular to a link between obesity in young girls and teens and the development of MS.

NBC News Parenting reported on the study:

Very obese children and teens may be at risk for multiple sclerosis, a new study suggests.

In the study, very obese girls (those who had a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or higher) were nearly four times more likely to be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) within the study period, compared with girls who were normal weight. The link was strongest among teenagers.

No link between obesity and multiple sclerosis was found for girls in other weight classes, or for boys.

In people with MS, the immune system attacks the nerve cells of the brain and spinal cord, producing symptoms such as numbness, loss of balance, weakness, and tremors. MS is rare in children — about one to two kids out of every 100,000 will develop the condition. Symptoms are similar in children and adults, although youngsters may also experience symptoms not typical of MS, such as seizures or lethargy, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

The findings suggest that, as the prevalence of childhood obesity increases, so will cases of multiple sclerosis, said study researcher Dr. Annette Langer-Gould, of Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation in Pasadena, Calif.

Because obesity increases inflammation in the body, it may be involved in the development of the disease, or acceleration of symptoms if the disease is already present.

Although further study is needed, the clear connection between the two should be a warning to parents.

“Our study suggests that parents or caregivers of obese girls and teenagers should pay attention to symptoms such as tingling and numbness or limb weakness, and bring them to a doctor’s attention,” said Langer-Gould.

Because the link between childhood obesity and the development of MS is present primarily in girls, the study also connected the female hormone estrogen to disease development.

Estrogen also increases inflammation, particularly during puberty when levels of the hormone spike.

The involvement of estrogen in the research explains why the link was primarily found in girls, and often with a spike in the number of cases in teenagers.

NBC News Parenting continued:

“The authors certainly have opened the door to an interesting association,” said Dr. Michael Duchowny, a pediatric neurologist, and director of academic affairs at Miami Children’s Hospital Research Institute, who was not involved in the study. “These findings need to be repeated, expanded and clarified further” with additional research, including studies that test the estrogen hypothesis, Duchowny said.

Previous studies in adults have suggested that obesity, or related factors, such as levels of appetite hormones, play a role in the development of MS, said Dr. Steven Mandel,  a neurologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

The study on obesity and the findings on estrogen involvement also link to previous research on the development of Multiple Sclerosis during or after pregnancy.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has reported on previous studies where rising levels of estrogen, along with weight gain, during pregnancy can lead to the onset of the disease in women who may have a genetic predisposition to it.

And in women who were previously diagnosed with MS, the estrogen/weight gain combination can greatly increase MS symptoms following a pregnancy.

Although further study is necessary, the findings should be another reminder to parents to encourage healthy habits in our children.

Particularly with young girls who tend to gain weight during puberty, parents should be vigilant in encouraging a healthy diet and physical activity.

And for pregnant women, maintaining a healthy diet and proper weight recommended by your physician can help to control some of the symptoms of present disease both before and after the baby is born.

NBC News Parenting concluded:

“It doesn’t mean that if you’re obese or overweight ,you’re going to develop MS,” but rather, that a link between the two conditions exists, Mandel said. The findings may be another reason to bring childhood obesity under control, he said

“We’re beginning to accumulate a good deal of information about some of the environmental factors that may play a role in MS, and environmental factors that are possible to be modified,” such as smoking and obesity, said Dr. Nicholas LaRocca, vice president of health care delivery at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. “That’s a very exciting possibility,” LaRocca said.