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Posted: October 21, 2008

Dementia Risk Increases if You Have Pear-Shaped Body

The actual shape of your body in middle age may help doctors determine whether you are at risk of dementia later in life, experts report. They say the shape and size of your belly may be a better predictor than being overweight or obese overall.

For example, if your body is shaped more like an apple, your risk of dementia appears to be greater than if your body is more pear-shaped, according to California researchers, led by Dr. Rachel A. Whitmer of the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research, in Oakland.

 

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In addition, the link between abdominal obesity and increased dementia risk appears to be independent of overall body weight and the presence of medical conditions such diabetes or cardiovascular disease, Whitmer and colleagues report in the medical journal Neurology.

 

These findings, developed over more than three decades, add to increasing evidence of the dangers of abdominal obesity in relation to being generally overweight or obese. Previous research identified large abdominal girth as a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

 

The investigators assessed weight, waist measurements, and other factors, in 6,583 men and women, who were members of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program of Northern California. All of them entered the study between 1964 and 1973.

 

Over 36 years of follow-up, 1,049 men and women – nearly 16% of all study participants -- developed dementia.

 

By analyzing the history, the researchers found that, compared with subjects who had the least amount of body fat, those with the highest levels of abdominal obesity had nearly a three-fold increased risk of dementia, when factoring in the effect of age, gender, race, education, marital status, diabetes, high blood lipids (fats), high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.

 

Overweight and obesity combined with high levels of abdominal fat, increased risk of dementia by 2.3-fold and 3.6-fold, respectively, whereas overweight and obesity combined with low abdominal fat carried about a 1.8-fold increased risk of dementia -- a risk level slightly lower than that identified among participants of normal weight and high abdominal fat.

 

These findings imply the harmful effects of an oversized belly impact both normal and overweight individuals, and if replicated, suggest that abdominal obesity may contribute to cognitive aging, the researchers conclude.

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