In scientific research, two topics are often the subject of studies and clinical trials. They are obesity and cognitive decline.
Both are conditions that are impacting public health, life expectancy, and health care policy. A new study from Trinity College in Dublin looked at data from more than 5,000 individuals and found that there is a correlation between mild cognitive impairment and belly fat. Belly fat is measured by looking at the ratio between waist size and hip size. With dementia and obesity on the rise, it's wise to look at any possible connections between the two.
There are earlier studies that looked at weight and cognition. Those results showed that patients who are overweight do not do as well on memory tests as those who are at a healthy weight. However, the previous studies did not look at older adults. The research in Dublin was particularly relevant because over half of adults over the age of 50 are "centrally obese" and only 16% of men and 26% of women have a BMI that is within normal range.
The data for the work came from the Trinity Ulster Department of Agriculture (TUDA) aging study cohort and includes thousands of Irish adults from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The team found that a higher waist to hip ration went along with reduced cognitive function. While the study was not designed to find out why this association exists and could not confirm a causal relationship between the two factors, there are some possible reasons for the link. Belly fat secretes a high amount of inflammatory markers and inflammation is definitely a factor in cognitive decline.
The study is even more significant since the investigators believe it to be one of the most extensive studies of older adults to address both obesity and cognition. Both obesity and cognitive decline are pervasive in modern society, and the burden placed on the economy, family members and the healthcare field in caring for an aging population needs to be considered.
Conal Cunningham is a Clinical Associate Professor in Medical Gerontology at Trinity and is the senior author of the study. He explained, "While we have known for some time that obesity is associated with negative health consequences our study adds to emerging evidence suggesting that obesity and where we deposit our excess weight could influence our brain health. This has significant public health implications." The team at Trinity worked with colleagues at St James's Hospital Dublin in collaboration with co-investigators from the Nutrition Innovation Centre for Food and Health (NICHE) at Ulster University, Coleraine. Check out the video below to learn more.