Friday, 25 Sep 2020

Obese children are more likely to get multiple sclerosis, study shows

Obese children are more likely to get multiple sclerosis: One in 10 cases of the crippling condition are linked to bulging waistlines, scientists warn

  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS) affects the brain and spinal cord. It can lead to disability
  • Experts say that one in ten cases of the condition are linked to childhood obesity 
  • They said rates of MS could increase in line with rising obesity levels 

Childhood obesity increases the risk of developing multiple sclerosis, research shows.

Experts say that one in ten cases of the condition are linked to people carrying excess weight as a child or teenager.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects the brain and spinal cord, causing problems with balance and movement, as well as potential disability.

It is a lifelong condition that is usually diagnosed in people in their twenties and thirties.

Previous studies have found that more than half of MS risk is down to environmental factors.

One in ten cases of MS are linked to people carrying excess weight as a child or teenager, a study has suggested

The new study, by Queen Mary University of London and the University of Oxford, aimed to estimate how many cases were a result of smoking and obesity.

It found that obesity accounts for around ten per cent of the risk of developing MS, but this proportion could increase if childhood obesity levels continues to rise.

The study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, said that childhood obesity is projected to contribute up to 14 per cent of overall risk of MS by 2035.

It found that approximately 10 per cent of the population risk of MS could be attributed to smoking, but that this will decrease as smoking rates decline.

In contrast, obesity levels are increasing in the UK. 

Around one in ten children are obese when they start primary school, but this doubles to one in five by the time they leave aged 11.

One in three adults in the UK are obese – meaning they have a Body Mass Index over 30 – and Britain’s spiralling obesity levels is placing growing pressure on the NHS.

Corresponding author Dr Ruth Dobson from Queen Mary University of London said: ‘Our findings highlight the potential to reduce the incidence of MS worldwide with targeted public health strategies. It is not only cancer and heart disease that are influenced by smoking and obesity – shifting the focus to diseases with onset in early adulthood, such as MS, may resonate more with younger people whose lifestyle choices will have an impact on their risk of future illness.’


Multiple sclerosis (known as MS) is a condition in which the immune system attacks the body and causes nerve damage to the brain and spinal cord.

It is an incurable, lifelong condition. Symptoms can be mild in some, and in others more extreme causing severe disability.

MS affects 2.3 million people worldwide – including around one million in the US, and 100,000 in the UK.

It is more than twice as common in women as it is in men. A person is usually diagnosed in their 20s and 30s.

The condition is more commonly diagnosed in people of European ancestry.

The cause isn’t clear. There may be genes associated with it, but it is not directly hereditary. Smoking and low vitamin D levels are also linked to MS.

Symptoms include fatigue, difficulty walking, vision problems, bladder problems, numbness or tingling, muscle stiffness and spasms, problems with balance and co-ordination, and problems with thinking, learning and planning.

The majority of sufferers will have episodes of symptoms which go away and come back, while some have ones which get gradually worse over time.

Symptoms can be managed with medication and therapy.

The condition shortens the average life expectancy by around five to 10 years.

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