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Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine - Barts and The London

The contribution of early life obesity to the risk of multiple sclerosis

Childhood obesity is projected to contribute up to 14% of overall risk of Multiple Sclerosis in 2035, according to a paper published on 26 August 2020 in the International Journal of Epidemiology. The collaborative study, by researchers from Queen Mary’s Wolfson and Blizard Institutes, Barts, and the University of Oxford, used published literature from the UK, USA, Russia, and Australia, to estimate and project the proportion of Multiple Sclerosis incidence that could be attributed to two modifiable risk factors: smoking, and childhood and adolescent high body mass index.

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The group found that, in 2015, approximately 10% of the population risk of Multiple Sclerosis could be attributed to smoking, but that this will decrease in response to the drop in smoking rates. Conversely, the potential contribution of early life obesity to Multiple Sclerosis incidence is increasing, because an increasing proportion of the population in the countries studied are obese. Whilst the proportions vary between countries, the same patterns can be seen worldwide.

Corresponding author Dr Ruth Dobson of the Wolfson Institute commented: Our findings highlight the potential to reduce the incidence of MS worldwide with targeted public health strategies. It is not only cancer and ischaemic heart disease that are influenced by smoking and obesity – shifting the focus to diseases with onset in early adulthood, such as MS, may resonate more with younger people whose lifestyle choices will have an impact on their risk of future illness.

This work was supported by funding from the Bart’s Charity.

Julia Pakpoor, Klaus Schmierer, Jack Cuzick, Gavin Giovannoni, Ruth Dobson. Estimated and projected burden of multiple sclerosis attributable to smoking and childhood and adolescent high body-mass index: a comparative risk assessment. Int J Epidemiol, 26 August 2020.