Kaiser research links childhood obesity with rare cranial disorder

In a cross-sectional, population-based study of 900,000 young people ages 2-19 years old, researchers found 78 cases of pediatric idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH), a neurological disorder that can result in blindness. The study, conducted by Kaiser Permanente, was published in The Journal of Pediatrics.

The condition occurred most frequently in overweight or obese, non-Hispanic white teenage girls: 85 percent of the children with IIH were girls 11-19; nearly half were non-Hispanic white; and 73 percent were overweight or obese.

The study also found a strong association between IIH and increasing weight class: extremely obese adolescents were 16 times more likely than normal weight children to have IIH; moderately obese children, six times more likely; and overweight children, 3.5 times more likely.

"Childhood obesity has again been shown to be associated with a serious disease," said study lead author Sonu M. Brara, MD, of the Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center Neurology Department. "This research is the strongest evidence to date that obesity is associated with IIH in children — it also suggests that the childhood obesity epidemic is likely to lead to increased morbidity from IIH, including blindness."

In adults, IIH is a relatively rare disorder that predominately affects overweight or obese women ages 20 to 44 with an incidence rate of 15-19 per 100,000 individuals. The disorder is characterized by increased pressure around the brain in the absence of other diseases, with symptoms including headache, blurred vision, nausea and eye-movement abnormalities. The ailment can lead to blindness in up to 10 percent of patients, particularly when not recognized and treated promptly.

The children and adolescents in the study were enrolled in the Kaiser Permanente Southern California integrated health plan from 2007 to 2009. The study included measured height and weight, and diagnosis of IIH.

"Our findings may help improve the early diagnosis and treatment of IIH in young patients," said Brara. "Overweight and obese children appear to have more IIH symptoms at onset than normal weight children. We suggest that clinicians carefully screen adolescents who are overweight or obese and present with symptoms of IIH, such as headache, blurred vision and eye-movement abnormalities."

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