Obesity is known to cause severe health problems such as cancer and heart disease, but new research suggests it could also be a key factor in the development of dementia.
Researchers from the University of Oxford found that patients under the age of 70 who are admitted to hospital for obesity-related problems carry a much higher risk of dementia than those who are not obese.
They also found that the highest risk is among those with a record of obesity when they are in their 30s.
The study involved the examination of data from hospital records for the whole of England between 1999 and 2001. In all cases of recorded obesity, researchers looked for evidence that people received care for or died from dementia.
Overall, data was taken from 451,232 people with obesity, and measured against a control group. Results showed that for those aged 30 to 39, the risk of developing dementia was 3.5 times higher than those in the same age who were not obese.
The University students also found that obese people in their 40s had a 70% risk, while those in their 50s had a slightly smaller risk of 50%. For those aged 60 – 69, the level of risk dropped again to 40%.
Authors of the study – which was published in the Postgraduate Medical journal – said: “The risk of dementia in people who are obese in early to mid-adult life seems to be increased.
“The level of risk depends on the age at which they are recorded as being obese (which may be an age or a birth cohort effect) and, while obesity at a younger age is associated with an increased risk of future dementia, obesity in people who have lived to about 60 to 80 years of age seems to be associated with a reduced risk.”
Dr Clare Walton, the research communications manager at the Alzheimer’s Society charity described the results as “striking”, but valuable for highlighting the importance of healthy living for both mental and physical well-being.
“Given the growing body of evidence that being overweight in mid-life rather than in later years seems to be the bigger risk factor for dementia, it is never too early to start making healthy lifestyle choices.
“We know what is good for your heart is good for your head and that the best way of reducing your risk of developing dementia is to eat a balanced diet, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly and get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked.”