While it is common knowledge that being obese can have severe health consequences such as heart disease, increased risk of strokes, diabetes, and other things, one thing that many people never consider is whether today’s eating habits can contribute to tomorrow’s development of dementia.
Obesity and Dementia?
Before touching upon whether there is a connection between obesity and dementia, we should probably explore the question of what, exactly is obesity. Obesity is more than merely carrying around a few extra pounds; rather, obesity is the condition of having a body mass index (defined by dividing your weight by your height) of more than 30. In comparison, a body mass index between 18.5 and 25 is considered to be a healthy weight, while a body mass index that falls between 25 and 30 is overweight.
One thing to note: the body mass calculation can produce results that incorrectly suggest someone is overweight in the case of heavily muscled individuals. If your body mass index is high, but you have a low body fat percentage, you probably don’t need to concern yourself with being considered overweight by the body mass index standards. This is especially true if your waist measurement is lower than average, yet your overall body mass index number is high.
Is There a Link Between Obesity and Dementia?
Surprisingly, there are conflicting studies on whether obesity contributes to a higher incidence of dementia later in life. While a number of studies have suggested that obese people have a higher likelihood of developing some sort of dementia later in life, a recent study in the UK suggested just the opposite: researchers there found that people who were underweight were at a 34% greater risk of developing dementia, while those who were considered to be obese actually had a 29% lesser risk of being diagnosed with dementia.
In spite of this particular study, most experts agree that being obese brings with it an increased risk of developing cognitive problems later in life. In addition—and perhaps one reason for the study suggesting a lower rate of dementia in those who are obese—it is possible and even likely that those people who are obese tend to not survive long enough for dementia to be an issue; were they to live another decade or two, it is impossible to say how many of them would eventually end up developing some form of dementia.
Lower Your Risk of Dementia?
Even the authors of the report suggesting that obesity brings with it a lower risk of dementia do not suggest the people deliberately overeat or do other things to become obese as a defensive strategy against dementia. Rather, every expert agrees that people of all ages and all body shapes and sizes should attempt to eat well: reduce calories, increase intake of fresh fruits and vegetables—especially leafy green vegetables—and engage in a program of regular cardiovascular exercise.
Maintaining a healthy diet and a regular exercise program have benefits that far outweigh any incremental chance that it hinders the development of dementia. Further, as noted above, there exist several other studies suggesting that obesity does, in fact, contribute to a higher rate of dementia later on in life.
Conclusion. While it would be nice to believe that engaging in the sort of lifestyle that leads to obesity—such as eating too much junk food, red meat, and processed foods—would end up lending some protection against dementia, common sense and the majority of studies suggest otherwise. Instead, medical experts agree that the best approach to limiting the chances of developing dementia is to maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and engage in regular mentally stimulating activities.