AAN LogoAccording to a latest study, teenage women who are obese could be more than twice as likely to develop multiple sclerosis (MS) as adults compared to female teens who are not obese.

For the purpose of the study, the authors analyzed 238,371 women from the Nurses’ Health Study and Nurses’ Health Study II who were 25 to 55 years old. Moreover, the women were noted to have answered a questionnaire about their health behavior and medical information every two years. The study authors found that over the course of 40 years, nearly 593 seem to have developed MS.

Furthermore, participants reported their weight and height at age 18. Scientists were then believed to have calculated their body mass index (BMI). In addition, they were asked to choose one out of nine body silhouettes, ranging from very thin to extremely obese, to describe their body size at five, ten and twenty years old.

The findings of the study revealed that women who had a BMI of 30 or larger at age 18 seem to have more than twice the risk of developing MS in contrast to those with a BMI between 18.5 and 20.9. Also, a woman with a BMI of 25 to 29.9 kilograms per meter squared could perhaps have been considered overweight whereas a woman who was thought to be obese had a BMI of 30 or more kilograms per meter squared.

Study author Kassandra Munger, ScD, of Harvard School of Public Health in Boston said that, “Our results suggest that weight during adolescence, rather than childhood or adulthood, is critical in determining the risk of MS. 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.”

The disease risk among women who were overweight but not obese at age 18 appears to have fairly increased. More so, the findings were noted to have the same after accounting for smoking status and physical activity level. In addition, women who had a larger body size at 20 years of age, represented by the use of silhouettes in the study seem to have twice the risk of MS as compared to women who reported a thinner body size. However, larger body sizes at ages 5 and 10 appear to have not been associated with MS risk.

Munger was of the opinion that there are two potential explanations why obesity may affect MS risk. Higher levels of vitamin D in the body may be considered to reduce disease risk. Also, people who are obese tend to have lower vitamin D levels in contrast to people who are not obese. Besides, fatty tissue is known to produce substances that affect the immune system and certain types of cell activities that are thought to be associated with MS.

The findings of the study will be published in the journal, Neurology.