People in their 40's with larger stomachs have a higher risk for dementia when they reach their 70's, according to study findings published this week in the medical journal Neurology.
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. Previous studies have also shown that a large abdomen -- in midlife -- increases the risk of diabetes, stroke, and coronary heart disease. But this is the first time researchers have demonstrated a longitudinal association between midlife belly fat and the risk of dementia.
Capturing abdominal obesity in midlife may be a much better indicator of the long term metabolic problems that leads to dementia risk, researchers from Oakland, California believe. Measuring abdomen size in older age people may not be as good an indicator because as people age they tend to naturally lose muscle and bone mass and gain belly size.
In the study, the researchers studied 6,583 people age 40 to 45 in northern California who had their abdominal density measured. Abdominal fat was measured by using a caliper to determine the distance from the back to the upper abdomen, midway between the top of the pelvis and the bottom of the ribs.
An average of 36 years later, 16 percent of the participants had been diagnosed with dementia.
The study found that those who were overweight and had a large belly were 2.3 times more likely to develop dementia than people with a normal weight and belly size. People who were both obese and had a large belly were 3.6 times more likely to develop dementia than those of normal weight and belly size. Those who were overweight or obese but did not have a large abdomen had an 80 percent increased risk of dementia.
Having a large abdomen increased the risk of dementia regardless of whether the participants were of normal weight overall, overweight, or obese, and regardless of existing health conditions, including diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease.
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