Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Abdominal fat boosts later dementia risk

In Brief

Abdominal fat boosts later dementia risk

Research has shown that people who accumulate abdominal fat as they age — making them "apple shaped" rather than "pear shaped" — are at higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes than people whose weight gain is more evenly distributed. Now a study published online in March 2008 in Neurology suggests that abdominal fat may also increase people's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or another type of dementia.

Researchers analyzed data collected from 6,583 male and female members of Kaiser Permanente of Northern California, a health maintenance organization. The patients had their upper abdomens measured when they were middle-aged (ranging from 40 to 45), as part of routine office visits between 1964 and 1973. The researchers then examined medical records for the same patients starting three decades later, when they were ages 73 to 87, to determine how many had developed dementia.

Between 1994 and 2006, 1,049 of the original patients were diagnosed with dementia. The greater the abdominal measurements in middle age, the greater the risk of dementia in old age. When compared with patients whose abdominal measurements placed them in the lowest quintile, those in the second quintile were 20% more likely to develop dementia, those in the third quintile 49% more likely, those in the fourth quintile 67% more likely, and those in the top quintile 272% more likely.

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