A new study has found that having a higher body mass index (BMI) as a teenager increases the risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS) in men.
According to the Swedish study, young men aged 16-20 are at greater risk of being diagnosed with MS in later life, regardless of their physical fitness.
The underlying cause of the condition remains unknown, however, it is widely thought that both genetic and environmental factors play a key role in the onset of the disease, with obesity before adulthood thought to play a significant part.
Researchers at Orebro University decided to investigate the relationship between BMI and MS in younger men. They analysed data covering 744,548 males born between 1970 and 1992 and registered in the Swedish Military Conscription Register between the ages of 16 and 20.
From that selection, 952 (0.13 per cent) were later diagnosed with MS; their average age at diagnosis was 31.2.
The researchers were able to find a relationship between BMI earlier life and the likelihood of a diagnosis as an adult. For every additional point on the BMI scale, which typically ranges from 15 to 35, the risk of a subsequent MS diagnosis rose by 3.4 per cent.
Of the selection, overweight individuals were 21.8 per cent more likely to develop MS and obese individuals were 39.6 more likely to be diagnosed as an adult.
The researchers said: “Early symptoms of MS such as fatigue, poor coordination, and pain may affect BMI, but the association of BMI with MS risk seems to be independent of physical fitness as the association persisted over the lower range of BMI after adjustment for physical fitness.
“In conclusion, higher BMI at ages of 16–20 years was associated with higher subsequent MS risk among men across the entire BMI range.”
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