Young men, ages 16 to 20, with a higher the body mass index (BMI) are at greater their risk of being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) later in life, regardless of physical fitness, according to a Swedish study.
Risk rose across “the entire BMI range,” its researchers reported, starting with normal weight compared to underweight.
The study, “Higher body mass index at ages 16 to 20 years is associated with increased risk of a multiple sclerosis diagnosis in subsequent adulthood among men,” was published in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal.
While the underlying cause of MS is unknown, both genetic and environmental factors are thought to play a role in disease onset. For men, a suggested environmental factor is higher BMI, particularly obesity, prior to adulthood.
A recent comprehensive review found mixed evidence to support this claim, leading researchers at Örebro University to more closely investigate the relationship between BMI and MS diagnosis in younger men.
Their study included data regarding each individual’s specific BMI, as opposed to grouping people by weight categories: underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese.
Data covered 744,548 males born between 1970 and 1992, and registered in the Swedish Military Conscription Register between the ages of 16 and 20. Of these people, 952 (0.13%) were later diagnosed with MS; their average age at diagnosis was 31.2.
Researchers were able to show a linear relationship between BMI earlier in life and the likelihood of an MS diagnosis in adulthood. In fact, 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%.
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