Obesity may increase adult’s risk of dementia by up to 80 percent, studies suggest1. Ever-growing waistlines could result in a big increase in the number of people who develop dementia in the future, researchers have warned. The dangers of obesity are very well known. Being overweight is associated with an increased risk of stroke and coronary heart disease, the two leading causes of death in the Western world, as well as type 2 diabetes, gout, and several types of cancer.

image showing a fatty food which may cause obesity

Less well known is the effect of obesity on the brain. In recent years, it has emerged that being overweight in middle age is linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia. Obesity increases the risk of dementia in general by 42 percent, Alzheimer’s by up to 80 percent and vascular dementia by up to 73 percent. The researchers found that all of these obesity indicators were inversely associated with total brain volume – that is, the higher any indicator was, the smaller the brain volume – and that the association between abdominal fat and brain volume was the strongest of all. The brains of obese people looked 16 years older than the brains of those who were lean, and the brains of overweight people looked 8 years older, “this is a very surprising statistic” says Plymouth chiropractor Kevin Kelly..

Researchers from the UK Health Forum2 used computer models to compare what would happen if obesity rates stayed the same or increased to 46% of men and 31% of women by 2050, which has been predicted by some groups. They said rates of dementia would go from 4,894 cases in every 100,000 people over 65 to 6,662 cases in every 100,000 people over 65.

Keeping obesity levels constant would save around £940m in dementia care, the study predicted. Tim Marsh of UK Health Forum said: ”… maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly – especially in midlife – are hugely important in reducing your risk”.

1 Rosengren, A., et. al. (2005). Body Mass Index, Other Cardiovascular Risk Factors, and Hospitalization for Dementia. Arch. Intern. Med. 165: 321-326: Ho, A., et. al. (2010). A commonly carried allele of the obesity-related FTO gene is associated with reduced brain volume in the healthy elderly. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 107: 8404-8409; Gorospe E.C. & Dave, J. K. (2007). The risk of dementia with increased body mass index. Age Ageing36: 23-29.

2 http://www.dementiaaction.org.uk/assets/0000/3823/UKHF.pdf