A study  published online in this month’s Neurology suggests that people whose waistline expands once they hit age 40 are more likely to develop dementia in their 70s than their slimmer peers.
For the study, researchers measured the abdominal fat of 6,583 people between the ages of 40 and 45 living in Northern California. After an average of 36 years, 16% of participants had developed dementia.
Based on this data, the researchers determined that those with the highest abdominal fat measurements were roughly three times more likely to develop dementia than those with the lowest levels of abdominal fat. These findings held true regardless of whether the individual was of normal weight overall, overweight or obese, although the researchers note that future dementia risk was highest among obese individuals with high abdominal fat measurements. According to researchers, women were more likely than men to have high abdominal fat levels, along with non-whites, those with less than a high school level of education, smokers, and people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes.
Commenting on the findings, one study author notes that “considering that 50% of adults in this country have an unhealthy amount of abdominal fat, this is a disturbing finding.” Speculating on the mechanism behind the link, she cites previous studies suggesting that high abdominal fat in elderly adults results in greater deterioration of the brain, adding that “these findings imply that the dangerous effects of abdominal obesity on the brain may start long before the signs of dementia appear.”
This study is interesting, really it is, but the bottom line is, how many times do we have to hear about the dangers of being overweight before someone steps in and does something? Already, we know that carting around excess pounds ups the risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, osteoarthritis, some cancers – and now dementia – and yet the majority of Americans stand by and don’t do anything about it! However, when a study comes out even suggesting that some drug, food compound or heck, even lifestyle choice, in some way influences cancer risk, people clamor to comply with the new rules. Perhaps it is because when someone dies from a disease such as cancer, their death is attributed to the cancer itself, whereas when it comes as a result obesity, the death is typically chalked up by family members – and even medical examiners – as a heart attack, or coronary artery disease or whatever was the final “nail in the coffin” if you will, for the overweight person in question.
Perhaps it’s time for researchers in their studies to explicitly state the link between obesity and mortality risk – yes, it seems obvious to many, but to the millions of Americans who continue to indulge in unhealthy food and not equate it to actual health risks, perhaps the additional explanation is necessary.
Tim Zim  Flickr Photo (CC)