The amount of belly fat a person has (the waist to hip ratio) is associated with reduced cognitive function in older adults, according to new research by Trinity College, Dublin.
Previous studies have found that people who are overweight do not perform as well on tests of memory and visuospatial ability compared to those who are a normal weight. However, it is not well known if this is true in older adults.
The researchers used data from the Trinity Ulster Department of Agriculture ageing cohort study comprising, which is a cross-border collaborative research project gathering data from thousands of elderly adults in Northern Ireland and Ireland.
The researchers found that a higher waist to hip ratio was associated with reduced cognitive function. This could be explained by an increased secretion of inflammatory markers by belly fat, which has been previously associated with a higher risk of impaired cognition.
On the contrary, body mass index (BMI) was found to protect cognitive function. BMI is a crude measure of body fat and cannot differentiate between fat and fat-free mass (muscle), thus it is proposed that the fat-free mass component is likely to be the protective factor.
Conal Cunningham, the study’s senior author, said: ‘While we have known for some time that obesity is associated with negative health consequences our study adds to emerging evidence suggesting that obesity and where we deposit our excess weight could influence our brain health. This has significant public health implications.’