Study: Older, Overweight Women Have Worse Memory

(Time – Health & Science) Being overweight is certainly risky for your physical health, but new evidence suggests that it may carry an added mental-health burden as well.

Studies have linked overweight to a host of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and stroke, but research led by Dr. Diana Kerwin at Northwestern University now shows that extra weight may also contribute to lower cognitive performance. Culling data from the Women’s Health Initiative, a long-term, multicenter study of postmenopausal women between the ages of 65 and 79, Kerwin’s team found that for every one-point increase in body mass index (a ratio of height and weight used to measure overweight and obesity), study volunteers experienced an accompanying one-point drop in cognitive performance scores.

Although the women’s memory scores were within the normal range, heavier women still did worse than their thinner peers.

Kerwin says she was surprised to discover that the association persisted, even after controlling for factors such as hypertension, stroke and diabetes. Initially, she had expected to find that obesity’s effect on cognition was mediated by heart and circulatory pathways such as blood flow and blood pressure. “Our results tell women who are obese that they shouldn’t feel falsely confident that it’s okay if you are obese even if you don’t have high blood pressure or diabetes,” says Kerwin, who published her results in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society. “Just being obese could still affect your cognition as you get older.”

The authors speculate that obesity itself may affect the brain, and that the mechanisms may include genetic factors that predispose people to obesity, or hormones such as cytokines and estrogen that are released by fat tissue.

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