Study Links Midlife Belly Fat to Higher Risk of Dementia


This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Being overweight can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes and heart attacks. But now there may be another reason to lose the fat, especially around the middle of the body.

A recent study suggested that people in their forties with belly fat have an increased risk of dementia later in life.

Dementia is the name for a group of brain disorders that affect memory, behavior, learning and language. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause. Dementia rarely appears before the age of sixty.

The new study added to growing evidence that people with large stomachs can face greater health risks than others who are overweight.

The study involved more than six thousand northern California members of Kaiser Permanente, a health care organization. Researchers looked at the patients' medical records from between nineteen sixty-four and nineteen seventy-three.

The people were in their early to mid-forties at the time. They were all part of a long-term health study that included measurements of belly fat.

The researchers compared the records with those from when the patients were in their seventies. By that time, almost one out of six of them had dementia. The researchers found that dementia was more common in those with wider bellies.

Those with the highest belly measurements had almost three times the risk of dementia compared to those with the lowest.

Belly size appeared to make a difference even in patients with normal body weight.

Belly size is linked to a kind of fat that grows around organs and produces harmful substances. Experts believe that belly fat is more dangerous than other kinds of fat cells that grow just under the skin.

The researchers say this is the first study to demonstrate a link between midlife belly fat and the risk of dementia. Still, it is possible that this apparent connection could be the result of a complex set of health-related behaviors.

The findings appeared in the journal Neurology. Rachel Whitmer from the Kaiser Permanente research division led the study. She says the findings do not explain why belly fat may be linked to dementia. But she says the study should send a warning.

Other research has shown that brain changes linked to Alzheimer's disease might begin as early as young adulthood. And another study showed that belly fat in old people was tied to increased loss of brain cells.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. I'm Barbara Klein.