Obesity could be linked to poor mental performance in older adults

March 22, 2012, 11:52 a.m.

Big bellies could be linked to lower cognitive function in people between the ages of 60 and 70, a new Korean study has found. (Credit: Christoph/Flickr Creative Commons)

Add it to the list of negative side effects caused by obesity: A new study has linked obesity with poor mental performance in adults 60 and older.

The Korean study, which was published in the Age and Ageing Journal, found that older adults with a high body mass index (BMI) – a measure of body fat based on height and weight – and big bellies were likely to have lower cognitive function than those with a lower BMI.

Cognitive function refers to mental processes – attention, remembering, language skills, problem solving and decision making.

The study evaluated 250 people and found a particular relationship between "visceral fat" – big bellies – and poor mental performance. reports that in those subjects between 60 and 70, those with the highest BMIs were linked to the lowest cognitive functions; in those over 70, however, higher BMIs were not generally associated with a decline in cognitive ability.

Dae Hyun Yoon, an associate professor of psychiatry at Seoul National University Hospital, told ABC that the prevention of obesity "might be important for the prevention of cognitive decline or dementia."

Ken Fujioka, the director of the Center for Weight Management at Scripps Clinic in San Diego, explained to ABC that as people become more obese in their torso region, "they increase their livel of inflammatory agents and atherosclerotic agents that will [wreak] havoc on the brain."

Atherosclerotic refers to something that causes artery walls to harden and thicken.

South Los Angeles' population is young – the Los Angeles Times Mapping L.A. project shows that only 128,995 people on the southside are 50 years old or older, with 56,759 of them being 65 or older. Compare that to the 423,744 people in the area who are 34 or younger.

Still, the study's findings could be relevant to a sizable segment of the area's population, especially considering that South L.A. does have an obesity problem – something which is exacerbated by a lack of healthy food options in the area. South Los Angeles had an obesity rate of 34.4 percent of its total residents in 2010, as opposed to West L.A.'s rate of 11.7 percent.

Photo by Christoph via Flickr Creative Commons.

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