Dementia Risk Widens with Waist

Author:  Yangguang Ou

Institution:  Florida State University
Date:  April 2008

Recent results from studies by the Kaiser Permanente, a nonprofit organization that tries to lower health care cost while maintaining the quality of care, have shown that people with abdominal belly fat have three times more likely of getting dementia later in life. This is even higher than the risk due to family history.

"This ought to be a wake-up call to baby boomers in terms of diet and exercise," said spokesman Dr. Sam Gandy of the Alzheimer's Association. "If they are not frightened enough about heart disease, maybe they will worry about losing their mental function."

Dementia is a condition marked by memory deficiency, cognitive impairment, and other symptoms that display mental disabilities. Dementia affects approximately 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 65. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer's, which accounts for anywhere from two-thirds to four-fifths of the cases reported.

The study was conducted on approximately 7,000 adults between the ages of 40 and 45 whose initial belly fat was measured in the mid-1960s to mid-1970s. The participants returned after approximately 36 years. Of the returning participants, about 16 percent developed Alzheimer's. As a result, those with the highest amount of visceral belly fat were 3.6 more likely to develop dementia than those with lower amounts.

This risk, however, does not exclude the non-obese population. According to the study, women with waist sizes greater than 35 cm, and men with waist sizes greater than 40 cm, are considered to be at risk, regardless of classification.

The good news is, however, that this problem has a solution.

Rachael A. Whitmer, one of the Kaiser Permanente researchers, had noted that "abdominal fat is easier to lose than other kinds of fat.[so] it [does] go away with diet and exercise."

Written by Yanguang Ou

Reviewed by Sheila Prakash

Published by Pooja Ghatalia