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Obesity in Middle Age Increases Dementia Risk

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Updated: August 3, 2006

Your risk of dementia increases by 35% if you are overweight US researchers has found. Obese people in their 40s are 74% more likely to develop dementia than people of normal weight.

A National Institute of Health funded the study carried out by the Kaiser Permanente Medical Foundation. Over 10,000 men and women, aged between 40 and 45 years at the outset, were studied for an average of 27 years. The volunteers had detailed health check ups in the projects early years. The research team used two measures, the thickness of skin folds under the shoulder blades and under the arm and the body mass index (BMI) to identify weight health risks. They defined BMI as;

  • Normal BMI between 18.6 and 24.9

  • Overweight as between 18.6 and 24.9.

  • Obesity as a body mass index of 30 or above
  • Using the measure of body mass index obese women seem to be at more risk than men. Obese women were 200% more likely to have dementia than women of normal weight. Compared to women obese men had only a 30% increase of dementia.
    During the research project 7% (713) of the study sample developed dementia.

    When the researchers used skin fold thickness rather than the body mass index to indicate the level of obesity they found little difference between the sexes. Both men and women were up to 70% more likely to develop dementia if they had a thick fold rather than a thin skin fold.

    Confusing results from this obesity study
    With government pushing the health risks of obesity this research came up with some confusing findings. The researchers in this study eliminated the influence of heart disease, diabetes and other conditions when they considered obesity as a cause of dementia. There seems to be something else that contributes to dementia besides the health risks classically linked to overweight, says the researchers.

    This is the first long term study of this type on middle aged participants, obesity and risk of dementia. It will be interesting to see if the findings can be repeated by others.

    Theories of obesity and dementia
    If the study has factored out cardiovascular disease and other conditions what is going on in this study?

    There are some theories to do with metabolism and cognitive decline especially in people with high levels of inflammation. It could be that fat has a direct effect on the neurons, cells in the brain, and that causes damage and destruction.

    So either way being overweight, and for sure being obese, is not good for us. This study may be just another incentive to lose weight. Calculate Your Body Mass Index

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