Measure of belly fat in older adults is linked with cognitive impairment

August 1, 2018, Trinity College Dublin
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A new study using data from over 5,000 individuals has found that a measure of belly fat (waist:hip ratio) was associated with reduced cognitive function in older Irish adults (>60 years of age). These findings have significant implications as the global prevalence of dementia is predicted to increase from 24.3 million in 2001 to 81.1 million by 2040.

Previous studies have 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. However, it is not well known if this is true in older . 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 to have a BMI () within the normal range.

The researchers used data from the Trinity Ulster Department of Agriculture (TUDA) ageing cohort study comprising, which is a cross-border collaborative research project gathering data from thousands of elderly adults in Northern Ireland and Ireland.

The researchers found that a higher waist:hip ratio was associated with 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 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 results suggest that reducing obesity and exposure to obeso-genic risk factors could offer a cost-effective public strategy for the prevention of cognitive decline.

Clinical Associate Professor in Medical Gerontology at Trinity, Conal Cunningham, is the senior author of the study. He said: "While we have known for some time that obesity is associated with our study adds to emerging evidence suggesting that and where we deposit our excess weight could influence our brain health. This has significant public health implications."

Explore further: 'Skinny fat' in older adults may predict dementia, Alzheimer's risk

More information: Ontefetse Ntlholang et al, The relationship between adiposity and cognitive function in a large community-dwelling population: data from the Trinity Ulster Department of Agriculture (TUDA) ageing cohort study, British Journal of Nutrition (2018). DOI: 10.1017/S0007114518001848

Related Stories

'Skinny fat' in older adults may predict dementia, Alzheimer's risk

July 5, 2018
A new study has found that "skinny fat—the combination of low muscle mass and strength in the context of high fat mass—may be an important predictor of cognitive performance in older adults. While sarcopenia, the loss ...

A fat belly is bad for your heart

April 20, 2018
Belly fat, even in people who are not otherwise overweight, is bad for the heart, according to results from the Mayo Clinic presented today at EuroPrevent 2018, a European Society of Cardiology congress.

Study finds 4 out of 5 over 50s in Ireland are overweight or obese

July 18, 2014
A new report released today by the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), a national study of over 8,000 people aged 50 and over in Ireland, led by Trinity College Dublin, shows nearly four out of five adults over the ...

The effects of obesity on cognitive decline in middle-aged and older African Americans

May 8, 2017
Obesity has the potential to raise an older adult's risk for having difficulty thinking and making decisions (also known as "cognitive decline" or dementia). It is a complex health concern. Body mass index (BMI) is a scale ...

Older people living in deprived areas face increased risk of developing dementia

February 23, 2018
People who live in disadvantaged areas have a greater risk of developing cognitive impairment (an early risk factor for dementia) according to research involving teams from Trinity College Dublin, Ulster University, Maynooth ...

BMI is underestimating obesity in Australia, waist circumference needs to be measured too

December 20, 2017
A new study has found the waistlines of Australian adults are increasing faster than body weight.

Recommended for you

Exercise makes even the 'still overweight' healthier: study

November 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—Heavyset folks who exercise regularly shouldn't get discouraged if they can't seem to shed more weight, no matter how hard they try.

Study finds that in treating obesity, one size does not fit all

November 13, 2018
Analyzing data from more than 2,400 obese patients who underwent bariatric weight-loss surgery, researchers identified at least four different patient subgroups that diverge significantly in eating behaviors and rate of diabetes, ...

Simple tips can lead to better food choices

November 13, 2018
A few easily learned tips on eating and food choice can increase amount of healthy food choices between 5 percent and 11 percent, a new Yale University study has found.

Scientists shine new light on link between obesity and cancer

November 12, 2018
Scientists have made a major discovery that shines a new, explanatory light on the link between obesity and cancer. Their research confirms why the body's immune surveillance systems—led by cancer-fighting Natural Killer ...

Genetic factors tied to obesity may protect against diabetes

November 2, 2018
Some genetic variations linked with obesity actually protect against Type 2 diabetes, heart attack and stroke, new findings suggest.

Zebrafish larvae help in search for appetite suppressants

November 2, 2018
Researchers at the University of Zurich and Harvard University have developed a new strategy in the search for psychoactive drugs. By analyzing the behavior of larval zebrafish, they can filter out substances with unwanted ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.