Childhood obesity increases likelihood of a cranial disorder that may cause blindness. According to a new Kaiser Permanente study published in The Journal of Pediatrics, children who are overweight or obese — particularly older, non-Hispanic white girls — are more likely to have a neurological disorder known as idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH), a rare condition that can result in blindness.
In a cross-sectional, population-based study of 900,000 children ages 2-19 years old, researchers found 78 cases of pediatric idiopathic intracranial hypertension. 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.
Importantly, 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, 6 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.”
This study adds to the growing evidence base about data on the prevalence of obesity and prevention of it among children. 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 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.