Sonia Anand

A PHRI study has found that greater body fat is a risk factor for reduced cognitive function, such as processing speed, in adults.

“Our results suggest that strategies to prevent or reduce having too much body fat may preserve cognitive function,” says PHRI Senior Scientist Sonia Anand, who is first author on the publication, “Evaluation of Adiposity and Cognitive Function in Adults” (full text at JAMA Network Open).

Even when the researchers took cardiovascular risk factors (such as diabetes or high blood pressure) or vascular brain injury into account, the association between body fat and lower cognitive scores remained.

“This suggests other not yet confirmed pathways that linked excess body fat to reduced cognitive function,” she adds.

In the study, 9166 participants were measured by bioelectrical impedance analysis to assess their total body fat.

As well, 6733 of the participants underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure their visceral fat (in the abdomen, packed around the organs). The MRI also assessed any vascular brain injury areas, where reduced blood flow affects the brain.

The participants were in the age range of 30 to 75 (average age of about 58). They all lived in either Canada or Poland; just over 56% were women. The majority were White European origin, with about 16% other ethnic backgrounds. Individuals with known cardiovascular disease were excluded.

Eric Smith

The publication’s senior author Eric Smith, a neurologist and scientist at the University of Calgary and an associate scientist at PHRI, says that “preserving cognitive function is one of the best ways to prevent dementia in old age. This study suggests that one of the ways that good nutrition and physical activity prevent dementia may be by maintaining healthy weight and body fat percentage.”

He is head of the brain core lab for the two population cohorts used for this new analysis– the Canadian Alliance for Healthy Hearts and Minds (CAHHM) and PURE Mind- a sub-study of the large, international Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiological (PURE) study.

Read their full paper in JAMA Network Open.

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