Obesity could lead to diminished cognitive skills, study suggests


Published Sep 13, 2012 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

To protect your mind, you might think about taking care of your body.

A new study published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, suggested that obese people who have other metabolic abnormalities may lose their cognitive skills faster than their healthier counterparts.

Metabolic abnormalities are defined as two or more of the following risk factors: having high blood pressure, having low HDL or “good” cholesterol, taking diabetes medication, taking cholesterol-lowering medication and having high triglycerides, a type of fat found in the blood.

The study involved 6,401 people with an average age of 50 at the start of the study. Body mass index (BMI) and metabolic risk factors were determined at the beginning of the study. Over 10 years, participants took memory and cognitive skills tests three times.

Researchers found: 31 percent of the participants had two or more metabolic abnormalities; 9 percent were obese and 38 percent were overweight. Of the 582 obese people, 60 percent met the criteria for metabolic abnormality.

Over 10 years, people who were both obese and metabolically abnormal experienced a 22.5 percent faster decline on their cognitive test scores than those who were of normal weight without metabolic abnormalities. Metabolically normal but obese individuals experienced similar amounts of rapid cognitive decline. In the metabolically abnormal group, the decline on scores were faster among obese than among normal weight people.

Study author Archana Singh-Manoux said in a written statement that the study provided evidence against the concept of “metabolically healthy obesity.” The study suggests that obese people without metabolic risk factors still have negative cardiac and cognitive results.

More research is needed to look at potential impacts from genetic factors, to account for differing durations of time that people have been obese or had metabolic risk factors, authors said.

— Anne Aurand, The Bulletin