Belly fat could mean cognitive decline in older people

In a recent study, researchers found that a measure of belly fat (waist: hip ratio) was linked to the reduced cognitive function in older people.

The study using data from over 5,000 individuals.

The finding has implications as the global prevalence of dementia is predicted to increase from 24.3 million in 2001 to 81.1 million by 2040.

Previous research has found that people who are overweight do not perform as well on tests of memory and visuospatial ability compared to those who are normal weight.

But it is not well known if this is true in older adults.

This is of concern within Ireland, as over half of the over 50s population is classified as being centrally obese, with only 16% of men and 26% of women reported having a BMI (body mass index) within the normal range.

In the study, the researchers used data from the Trinity Ulster Department of Agriculture (TUDA) aging cohort study comprising.

It is a cross-border collaborative research project gathering data from thousands of elderly adults in Northern Ireland and Ireland.

The team found that a higher waist: hip ratio was associated with the reduced cognitive function.

This could be explained by an increased secretion of inflammatory markers by belly fat, which has been previously associated with a higher risk of impaired cognition.

On the contrary, body mass index (BMI) was found to protect cognitive function.

BMI is a crude measure of body fat and cannot differentiate between fat and fat-free mass (muscle), thus it is proposed that the fat-free mass component is likely to be the protective factor.

To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is one of the largest studies of older adults to report these findings.

Given the high prevalence of overweight and obesity in the older population and the economic and social burden of cognitive dysfunction, the researchers suggest that reducing obesity and exposure to obesogenic risk factors could offer a cost-effective public health strategy for the prevention of cognitive decline.

It is known for some time that obesity is associated with negative health consequences.

This study adds to emerging evidence suggesting that obesity and where we deposit our excess weight could influence our brain health.

Clinical Associate Professor in Medical Gerontology at Trinity, Conal Cunningham, is the senior author of the study.

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Source: Trinity College Dublin.