A British study was developed, to look at the connection between childhood obesity and weight gain, and the later development of an underactive thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions in the 60 to 64 age range.

The researchers were able to access a study group of more 2500+ women, and 2500+ men who were born in the same week, and whose weights and heights were periodically studied through age 64.

Among the group, more than 2,000 had TSH, antibodies and other thyroid testing done between age 60 and 64.

What they found?

  • At this age point, 10.9% of women and 2.3% of men were taking thyroid hormone replacement medication
  • 11.5% of the women had thyroid peroxidase (TPO) antibodies, and 3.3% of the men had them
  • The women on thyroid hormone replacement had a higher body mass index and body weight than women not taking thyroid medication
  • The women on thyroid hormone replacement had higher body weights at all time points starting at age 6, compared to the women not taking thyroid medication
  • The women who had TPO antibodies had higher body weights
  • Women who had higher rates of weight gain between birth and age 14 had an increased likelihood of thyroid hormone replacement use, and presence of TPO antibodies.
  • None of these associations apparently applied to the men who were studied.

What This Means for You?

First, this study suggests that girls who are overweight should be evaluated much more rigorously for possible thyroid disease or autoimmune thyroid antibodies. Childhood weight gain or obesity can be considered potential "markers" for thyroid disease, and it might make sense for it to automatically trigger a more comprehensive thyroid and autoimmunity workup. Parents whose daughters are rapidly gaining weight, or are obese, should insist on a comprehensive thyroid workup — including not just the standard TSH test, but more rigorous Free T4, Free T3, TPO antibodies, and Reverse T3 tests — to look for even subtle thyroid abnormalities.

Next, we clearly need to know whether earlier diagnosis and treatment of thyroid and autoimmune issues in girls may help prevent further weight gain or obesity during adult life. This is a valuable topic to explore, and hopefully we will eventually have more information about this.

Finally, while the evidence is not definitive, given the increasing obesity rates among children and teenagers in the US, we may be looking at even higher rates of hypothyroidism and autoimmune thyroid disease in the future, as these girls reach adulthood.

Ong, KK et al, on behalf of the Medical Research Council National Survey of Health Development Scientific Data Collection Teams. "Childhood weight gain and thyroid autoimmunity at age 60-64 years: the 1946 British Birth Cohort Study." Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. February 22, 2013

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