British researchers tracked over 6,000 people, aged 35 to 55, for over a decade. Participants took tests evaluating their cognitive skills and memory three times over a ten-year period. Those who were obese and who had metabolic changes such as high blood sugar and high cholesterol were found to have the fastest cognitive decline, as measured by their test scores.
In the UK, about 60.8 percent of adults and 31.1 percent of children are classified as overweight; about a quarter of adults are obese. In the US, more than one-third of adults and about 17 percent of children are obese.
Obesity has already been cited as a factor in dementia. In the BBC, Shirley Cramer of Alzheimer’s Research UK notes that previous studies have linked a healthy lifestyle — involving a nutritious and healthy diet, regular exercise, not smoking and keeping high blood pressure and cholesterol in check – as helping to “stave off” dementia. She also notes that “with dementia figures spiraling towards a million, the findings suggest we should be conscious of our general health throughout life.”
The researchers of the Neurology study emphasized that they were specifically studying cognitive function, not dementia, and that not all cognitive impairment leads to dementia. A limitation of the study was that all of the participants were from one group of civil service workers; more research needs to be done in genetic factors as well as about ”how long people have been obese and how long they have had these metabolic risk factors.”
Other recent research has found that factors besides an unhealthy diet and lifestyle may contribute to obesity. A just-published study in the International Journal of Obesity has found that giving antibiotics to babies younger than six months old could cause them to be overweight. Study co-author Leonardo Trasande of the New York University School of Medicine says that “Microbes in our intestines may play critical roles in how we absorb calories, and exposure to antibiotics, especially early in life, may kill off healthy bacteria that influence how we absorb nutrients into our bodies, and would otherwise keep us lean.”
It is more evidence that more than a few aspects of modern life, from sedentary lifestyles to medications, are not exactly good for us and can even be harmful. The Neurology study offers further support for the old adage that there’s a “healthy mind in a healthy body,” mens sana in corpore sano.