A new long-term study finds that obesity in midlife raises women’s risk of dementia. Moreover, there is no intake of calories and physical inactivity.
Midlife obesity can raise the risk of dementia for a woman later on, suggests new research.
Sarah Floud, Ph.D., of the University of Oxford, UK’s Nuffield Department of Population Health, is the lead author of the study.
As Floud and her colleagues describe in their paper, several previous studies found a link between a low body mass index (BMI) and the likelihood of having a dementia diagnosis within the next 5–10 years.
Other findings that lasted for ten years or less have correlated poor diet and lack of exercise with dementia incidence.
All of the above, however, can be the result of reverse causality, which means they can be dementia consequences rather than causes. This situation may well be possible, the authors explain, because dementia typically affects cognition a decade before a diagnosis is formally made to the person.
The condition can slowly but gradually affect behaviour, impair mental and physical activity, reduce food and calories intake, and cause weight loss during this preclinical stage.
In addition, several recent meta-analyzes have pointed out, describe the authors, that although a low BMI may be associated with dementia due to reverse causality over a longer period, obesity is positively associated with dementia.
Either way, prospective studies are needed over longer periods to resolve the issue of how BMI connects to the risk of dementia. This is exactly what Floud and her team set out to do.
Their findings appear in the Neurology journal.
Over the study period, there is no mention of dementia in their health records by 89 percent of participants. Around 15 years after the start of the study, 18,695 people were diagnosed with dementia.
Women who had obesity at the start of the study were 21 percent more likely than women who had a “desirable” BMI to develop dementia.
Specifically, over the long term, 2.2 percent of women with obesity experienced dementia compared to 1.7 percent of those with healthy BMI.
Although the results showed that low calorie calorie intake and lack of physical activity in the first decade of the research had a correlation to higher dementia risk, these associations gradually faded after that time, and there was no significant connection between calorie intake and inactivity with dementia risk.
Floud comments on the results, stating, “Some previous studies have suggested poor diet or a lack of exercise may increase a person’s risk of dementia.”
“However, our study found these factors are not linked to the long-term risk of dementia. The short-term links between dementia, inactivity, and low calorie intake are likely to be the result of the earliest signs of the disease, before symptoms start to show,” she emphasizes.
Sarah Floud, Ph.D said: “On the other hand, obesity in midlife was linked with dementia 15 or more years later. Obesity is a well-established risk factor for cerebrovascular disease. Cerebrovascular disease contributes to dementia later in life.”
The research is limited by the fact that only women are involved, suggesting the results may not be relevant to men.
The authors of a linked editorial also mention as research limitations “the absence of time-dependent dynamic analyzes of BMI, basic dietary habits measurement and residual confounding.”


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