“Belly Fat" Raises Cognitive Impairment and Dementia Risks for Older Women
Doctors who examined 7,163 women between the ages of 65 and 80 learned that normal weight and obese women, with excess belly fat, are more likely to develop cognitive impairment or dementia than women of similar size who carry extra weight on their hips.
New Research in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society
The researchers wanted to explore whether or not obesity increases a woman's risk for developing cognitive impairment or dementia as she ages. Diana R. Kerwin, MD, assistant professor, Division of Geriatrics, Department of Medicine, Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago was the research team's corresponding author.
The researchers suspected that obesity could be a dementia risk factor, and wondered whether the location of excess fat-belly or hips-raises the chances of developing dementia.
To find out, they studied over 7,000 post-menopausal women aged 65 to 80. The women had no dementia symptoms when they joined the study. Each year, over an average of 4.4 years, the women took cognitive function tests. The researchers measured each woman's weight, height, and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), which reveals whether you carry excess weight around your belly or your hips. They also measured each woman's body mass index (BMI). The BMI, a relationship between your weight and height, reveals whether you're overweight or obese.
Over the course of the study, 108 women met criteria for probable dementia and 310 women met study criteria for mild cognitive impairment. The data suggest that belly fat is a risk factor for cognitive impairment and probable dementia in normal-weight women.
"I think the most interesting finding was that for every one point increase in a woman's BMI, her cognitive test score was almost a full point lower," said Dr. Kerwin.
Why Belly Fat May Be a Risk Factor for Cognitive Impairment
Belly fat is a heart disease risk factor. In turn, heart disease is a risk factor for dementia. And previous studies show women of normal weight who have high WHRs seem to be at higher risk for dementia and cognitive impairment.
What Should I Do?
"This study underscores the importance of maintaining a healthy weight throughout your life," said Dr. Kerwin. "Women should know what their ideal weight is for their height, and stick to a healthy diet and exercise to maintain that weight." Dr. Kerwin also noted that her research team learned that women who exercise tend to have a healthier body weight.
This summary is from the full report titled Interaction between Body Mass Index and Central Adiposity and Risk of Incident Cognitive Impairment and Dementia: Results from the Womenâ€™s Health Initiative Memory Study." It appears in the January 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The report is authored by Diana R. Kerwin, MD; Sara A. Gaussoin, MS; Rowan T. Chlebowski, MD, PhD; Lewis H. Kuller, MD; Mara Vitolins, Dr Ph; Laura H. Coker, PhD; Jane M. Kotchen, MD; Barbara J. Nicklas, PhD; Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, PhD; Raymond G. Hoffmann, PhD; and Mark A. Espeland, PhD.