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Adolescent Obesity Could Be A Risk Factor for Multiple Sclerosis

adolescent obesity could be a risk factor for multiple sclerosis

The findings of a systematic review indicate that adolescent obesity could be a risk factor for multiple sclerosis. If future research supports this idea, it “would be of major significance,” according to experts at the University of British Columbia, especially given the rising number of children and adolescents who are overweight or obese.


Scientists around the world have been searching for the causes and risk factors for multiple sclerosis in hopes of providing effective ways to treat and even prevent the disease. In this latest effort, the researchers evaluated 169 original articles and 15 systematic reviews to look for risk factors that can be modified by treatment or lifestyle changes.

Risk factors for multiple sclerosis
Some of the risk factors that were found to have an impact on the onset and progression of multiple sclerosis were:

  • Adolescent obesity. Using body mass index (BMI) as the defining factor, researchers found that a BMI of 30 or greater (obesity) before onset of MS was associated with a significant (more than twofold) increased risk of MS
  • Exposure to Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Extensive review of the literature reveals “strong evidence to suggest that EBV infection is implicated in increasing the risk of MS.”
  • Smoking. Having ever smoked versus never smoking was associated with a 1.34 times increased risk of MS. Smoking also increased long-term disability associated with multiple sclerosis
  • Low levels of vitamin D. Specifically, low intake of vitamin D, low serum levels of vitamin D, and/or low sunlight exposure “were consistently associated with an increased risk of MS.”
  • Stress. Based on the results of five studies, “there appears to be an association between emotionally stressful life events and an increased risk of MS.”

Adolescent obesity and multiple sclerosis
Certainly, all of the risk factors are important and should be considered. However, as the researchers noted, “The suggestion that high BMI might increase the risk of MS is intriguing and of potential concern given the recent ‘obesity epidemic’ in children, adolescents and adults alike.”

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Parents and other responsible adults have an obligation to protect the health of children, and preventing overweight and obesity is one of those tasks. Obesity among young people presents a number of serious and potentially deadly health issues, and an increased risk of multiple sclerosis could well be one of those issues.

Also Read: Multiple sclerosis in children and teens
Exercise impacts multiple sclerosis in children
Multiple sclerosis, risk of passing it on
Diet and multiple sclerosis, what’s the story?

McKay KA et al. Factors associated with onset, relapses or progression in multiple sclerosis: a systematic review. NeuroToxicology 2016 Apr 1 online. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuro.2016.03.020

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