People who are overweight or obese in their 40s have a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life, according to research that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology 58th Annual Meeting in San Diego, Calif., April 1 – 8, 2006.
For the study, researchers followed nearly 9,000 people over a period of up to 30 years. The study participants were evaluated for overweight and obesity by measuring skinfold thickness below the shoulder and at the back of the upper arm.
Those with higher skinfold measurements in their 40s were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those with smaller skinfold measurements. Those in the highest group of shoulder skinfold measurements were nearly three times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as those in the lowest group. For the arm measurements, those in the highest group were 21/2 times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as those in the lowest group.
The results did not change when researchers took into account people with diabetes and other conditions that can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
“These findings are important because obesity and overweight are treatable and modifiable risk factors,” said study author Rachel A. Whitmer, PhD, of the Kaiser Permanente Foundation Research Institute in Oakland, CA. “These results need to be confirmed, but these results suggest that keeping your weight down in midlife can help you remain mentally alert later on in life. And if we don’t control the current epidemic of obesity, the number of cases of dementia in the future may increase even higher than is currently predicted.”
Whitmer noted that future studies are needed to examine the molecular mechanisms that link obesity and Alzheimer’s disease.
The study was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.
The American Academy of Neurology, an association of nearly 19,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to improving patient care through education and research. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson disease, and stroke.