Study links belly fat to dementia

April 1, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Discover the reasons why you should watch your midsection in your 40s.

Fifty percent of all adults in this country have abdominal obesity, better known as belly fat. A new study has found that carrying extra weight around the middle can actually be linked to dementia. Dr. Rachel Whitmer, an epidemiologist with Kaiser Permanente, helps explain the connection and how you can minimize your risk.

Tips to reduce belly fat:
Measure your waistline against World Health Organization standards: 34" for women and 39" for men.

How we can minimize our risk:

  • It's never too late to lose weight -- start now.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Do errands on a bicycle or walking.
  • Load up on vegetables, whole grains, and fruits.

About the study:
The Kaiser Permanente Division of Research study of 6,583 people aged 40 to 45 found that overweight people with a large belly were 2.3 times more likely to develop dementia 36 years later than people of normal weight and belly size. Obese people were 3.6 times more likely to develop dementia than those of normal weight and belly size. The study lead author and lead investigator, Rachel A. Whitmer, PhD, Research Scientist of the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research, will explain the study, the science behind the study, what the study means, and guidelines for reducing risk.

Why the study is newsworthy:

50 percent of adults in this country have abdominal obesity.

Previous studies have looked at central obesity (as determined by waist circumference) and body mass index in the elderly and its link to dementia risk. In addition, previous studies have shown that a large abdomen -- in midlife -- increases the risk of diabetes, stroke, and coronary heart disease. This is the first time researchers have demonstrated a longitudinal association between midlife belly fat and the risk of dementia.

Having a large abdomen increased dementia risk regardless of whether participants were of normal weight overall, overweight, or obese, and regardless of existing health conditions, such as diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease

In this study the researchers were able to study people over a 30-year period (prospective analysis data that not all institutions have access to). In addition, they were able to control for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and stroke. Finally, the researchers were able to look at people who had central obesity, but who were not overweight, and found these people as well were at a greater risk of dementia. This means that where one carries the weight, especially in midlife, appears to be an important risk factor for dementia.

BOTTOM LINE: It doesn't matter how much you weigh, but where you carry your weight.