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Overweight, Obese Kids at Risk for MS as Adults

Childhood obesity is linked to several health problems that can develop in adulthood, including diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Recent research suggests another connection — obesity in childhood may also raise a person’s risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS). 

Knowing the connection between childhood obesity and MS may help you understand the importance of encouraging your child to eat a healthy diet and maintain regular physical activity to combat obesity.

What Is Multiple Sclerosis? 

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, disrupting the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and the body. 

With MS, the immune system attacks the brain and spinal cord, damaging the protective layer known as myelin that covers nerves and interrupting signals to and from the brain. This interruption causes symptoms such as numbness, tingling pain and fatigue. 

The exact cause of MS is unknown, and there is no cure. However, once a diagnosis — typically involving blood tests, an MRI and possibly a spinal tap — is made, usually between ages 20 and 40, MS can be treated and the disease controlled. Treatment can be focused on managing symptoms with medications and physical therapy. 

MS and Childhood Obesity: Inflammation is the Culprit 

More people than ever are being diagnosed with MS, and childhood obesity may be a factor in this increase. 

A study looking at the link between genes associated with childhood obesity and MS found that people with childhood obesity have a 20 percent increased risk of developing MS. Another study from Germany comparing 453 children and teens with MS to more than 14,000 children without MS found that those who were overweight or obese had twice the risk of developing MS. And a study identifying the connection between obesity and MS in kids found that obese adolescent girls were particularly vulnerable to developing the disease in adulthood. 

The link between childhood obesity and MS hasn’t been fully explored, but inflammation seems to play a major role.

It's believed that obesity creates inflammation because of the way hormones are released in response to the excess fats and sugars circulating in the body and the intake of excess calories primarily from highly processed foods. 

Since MS is a chronic inflammatory disease, this inflammatory state that occurs in the body may make it more likely to develop if your child is obese. 

Preventing Childhood Obesity 

There are many things parents can do to help reduce their children’s risk of childhood obesity — and possibly prevent MS. 

●       Provide an abundance of fruits, vegetables and other healthful whole foods in your child’s diet. 

●       Encourage your family to drink plenty of water instead of sugary drinks such as juice or soda. 

●       Eat meals as a family whenever possible. Research suggests kids who share family meals three or more times a week are more likely to be in a normal weight range and have healthier dietary and eating patterns than those who share fewer than three family meals together. 

●       Stay active. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that kids engage in at least an hour of physical activity every day. Consider exercising together as a family to show your kids how fun it can be and strengthen your family bond. 

●       Focus on wellness, not weight. Teach and model healthy, positive attitudes toward food and physical activity without emphasizing the number on the scale.

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