Thyroid Function Linked with Pediatric Obesity

December 10, 2008
Shivani Parmar, MPH

New research from the Regional Hospital of Bolzano in Italy suggests that "pediatric obesity may induce alterations in thyroid function and structure."

New research from the Regional Hospital of Bolzano in Italy suggests that “pediatric obesity may induce alterations in thyroid function and structure.”

Pediatric obesity has long been associated with hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, yet studies directly connecting thyroid function and pediatric obesity have until now always shown conflicting results. The results of this study, published in the December issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, show that pediatric obesity may be the cause of thyroid disorder.

Scientists followed 186 obese children over the course of three years by measuring their thyroid hormone levels and antibodies, and conducting a thyroid ultrasound. A news release from The Endocrine Society said that the presence of thyroid antibodies would “suggest a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease of the thyroid where T-cells attack the cells of the thyroid. In this study, 73 children did not show these antibodies, yet their ultrasound pattern was still suggestive of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.”

Giorgio Radetti, MD, lead author of the study, said “Our study shows that alterations in thyroid function and structure are common in obese children and we may have uncovered the link. We found an association between body mass index and thyroid hormone levels which suggests that fat excess may have a role in thyroid tissue modification... The ultrasound findings are a bit mysterious. However, the findings do suggest the existence of a low-grade inflammation state, which has been known to characterize obesity.”

Upon wait loss, the thyroid function was shown to return to normal, suggesting that thyroid abnormalities visible in ultrasound images may be reversible. Further research will be required to determine “whether the persistence of thyroid abnormalities in obese children may also progress into chronic thyroid disease in early adulthood.”