Possible link between teenage obesity and MS

Details of Harvard's 40-year study which looked at 238,000 women and examined the link between teenage obesity and multiple sclerosis.

Researchers at Harvard University say that women who were obese as teenagers may be more likely to develop Multiple Sclerosis as adults.

The study, undertaken by the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), lasted 40 years and looked at 238,000 women. The results revealed that those who were obese at 18 had twice the risk of developing MS compared to those who were not. However, they found no association between obesity in childhood or adulthood and development of MS. Over the course of the study, which is described in the medical journal Neurology, 593 women were diagnosed with MS.

The major strengths of this study are its large sample size and the long period of time over which it was carried out. However, it also has two major weaknesses. Firstly, all of the participants were female. The researchers admit that they cannot be sure whether the findings of this study also apply to men, and say that further study is required in order to find out. It is, however, worth mentioning here that more women are developing multiple sclerois than men.

Another major weakness of this study was that over 95 per cent of the participants were white. This means that the results cannot be generalised to other racial groups. As Left Foot Forward recently reported, rates of MS amongst South Asians in the UK are increasing, and research into the reasons behind this is planned.

Study author Dr Kassandra L. Munger told BBC News:

“There’s a lot of research supporting the idea that adolescence may be an important time for development of disease, so what we have found is consistent with that.

“Teaching and practicing obesity prevention from the start – but especially during teenage years – may be an important step in reducing the risk of MS later in life for women.”

However, Susan Kohlhaas, research communications officer for the MS Society, believes more work is needed, adds the BBC. Ms Kohlhaas said the study does not account for several other factors that may play a role in causing MS, making it difficult to determine how big a factor teenage obesity is in its onset.

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