Excessive belly fat is linked to worse cognitive performance

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Heart health has always been an essential component of overall health.

A recent study found that Asians with excess visceral fat are more likely to have a poorer ability to think, learn, and remember, indicating a need to prevent obesity to maintain cognitive function.

Understanding the Link Between Body Fat and Cognitive Function

Scientists from the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore conducted the study.

They analyzed health data from around 9,000 multi-ethnic Singaporeans collected between 2018 and 2021.

The study revealed that an increase in visceral fat (the fat wrapped around the internal organs) is linked to poor performance in cognitive tests of memory, processing speed, attention, and executive function.

Moreover, a deeper dive into the relationship between body fat and cognition was conducted using genetic data from global databases.

It was found that a higher body mass index (BMI) and BMI-adjusted waist-to-hip ratio were also linked to a fall in cognitive performance.

Role of Obesity in Cognitive Function

The findings of the study suggest that obesity prevention could play a vital role in maintaining cognitive function and reducing the future risk of dementia.

Obesity is a risk factor for metabolic disorders, which have been previously linked to cognitive decline. However, it was unclear whether body fat is a risk factor for cognitive decline.

Most earlier studies were performed in Western populations of older individuals, leaving out Asians, who make up 60% of the world’s population and whose health and disease are determined by a different combination of factors.

Observations from a Population Cohort Study

To assess the link between body fat and cognitive function in an Asian population, the scientists studied the health data of 8,769 participants living in Singapore of Chinese, Malay, or South-Asian ethnicity recruited for the Health for Life in Singapore (HELIOS) study.

The participants, aged between 30 and 84 years old, were evaluated through a series of cognitive tests, whole-body scans, physiological and biochemical assessments to derive a series of body fat and metabolic parameters.

Evaluation of the HELIOS data revealed that three parameters are consistently associated with a lower cognitive performance: reduced high-density lipoprotein, increased visceral fat mass index, and increased waist-to-hip ratio.

Establishing a Biological Link Between Body Fat and Cognition

To form a clearer picture of the link between body fat and cognitive function, the scientists turned to Mendelian randomization, a statistical approach that makes use of small snippets of genes that vary from person to person.

The NTU LKCMedicine team used data acquired from genome-wide association studies conducted on various populations, focusing on genetic variants that predict visceral fat and BMI.

They found that genetic variants predicting excess visceral fat, elevated BMI, and increased BMI-adjusted waist-to-hip ratio are related to reduced cognitive performance.

The study is among the first to establish a biological link between body fat and cognition.

Preventing Obesity to Maintain Cognitive Function

The findings of the study emphasize the impact of preventing obesity on cognitive function, which has become a public health priority due to the increasing number of dementia cases globally.

It is expected that 78 million people will have dementia by 2030, and 139 million people by 2050.

The researchers believe that the study’s results raise the possibility that preventing and controlling obesity in Asian populations could play a critical role in maintaining cognitive function and protecting against the future risk of dementia.


This study’s findings underscore the importance of monitoring body fat and metabolic health in preserving cognitive function in the long run.

With obesity being a global problem, public health measures must include efforts to prevent obesity and promote healthy lifestyles, including a balanced diet and regular exercise.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and Vitamin E may help prevent Parkinson’s disease

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about antioxidants that could help reduce dementia risk, and strawberries could help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

The study was published in The Lancet Regional Health-Western Pacific.

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