Still, she cautioned that the new study only shows that MS and childhood obesity are associated with one another. No clear cause-and-effect has been established, but there are some theories that link the two conditions.
"Estrogen in fat produces pro-inflammatory [substances], and obesity is known to be a low-grade inflammatory state," she said. "After going through puberty, girls have higher estrogen levels than boys, so overweight girls are getting a double whammy.
This may help explain why the risk was more pronounced in overweight or obese girls in the study. Most autoimmune diseases occur more frequently in women, and differences in sex hormones are thought to be one of the reasons why.
Several MS experts said it is too early to draw any conclusions about how -- or even if -- childhood obesity may increase MS risk, but they agree that the theories behind the link do make sense.
Dr. Stephen Thompson, chief of pediatric neurology at Hackensack University Medical Center, in New Jersey, said he is not seeing this trend in his practice yet.
"It is certainly plausible though," he said. "We know that MS is an inflammatory disease of the central nervous system and there are certain specific risks for inflammation, one of which would be obesity. Obesity is now an epidemic in children, so we would expect a rise in pediatric MS and that would be highly problematic."
Apart from physical disabilities related to the condition, childhood MS could affect learning and thinking ability during the school-aged years, he added. "Childhood obesity is a grave concern, and this is just another thing that may be related to it," Thompson said.
Dr. Nancy Sicotte, director of the multiple sc
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