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April 29, 2005

Dementia Risk In Old Age Linked To Obesity

By Celia Hall
The Telegraph - UK

Obesity in middle-aged women greatly increases the risk of dementia in later life, according to a study today.

The research, involving more than 10,000 men and women over 27 years, finds that the risk of dementia increases by 75 per cent among the obese in general but by 200 per cent in obese women. In men and women who are merely overweight the increase is 35 per cent.

The researchers, from the Kaiser Permanente health care organisation in Oakland, California, initially thought the rise could be explained by increased susceptibility to heart disease and diabetes, which are linked to dementia.

But, as they say today in the online British Medical Journal, that was not the case. They now speculate that fatness could have a direct effect on the way nerve cells degrade.

One study uses obese rats deficient in the protein leptin, which tells the brain how much fat there is in the body. It finds that they were impaired when performing a type of memory task.

The study, believed to be the first to show the association, warns that failure to stem the obesity epidemic could mean more people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's disease in later life.

Dr Rachel Whitmer, who led the work, said yesterday that "we are about to see an unprecedented increase in dementia as baby boomers age".

She added that there was a "dose effect", with the overweight as well as the obese having an increased risk of suffering from dementia as they age.

However, she pointed out that "this is something people can do something about".

The study collects information on 10,276 Kaiser Permanente members between 1964 to 1973, when they were aged 40-45. By 1994, dementia was diagnosed in 713 of the participants, seven per cent.

Men and women with the highest obesity measurements have a 60 to 70 per cent greater risk of dementia than those with the lowest.

In Britain more than half of the adult population is overweight or obese. Obesity in adult women nearly trebled between 1980 and 2002 from eight per cent to 23 per cent and nearly quadrupled in men over the same period, from six to 22 per cent.

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