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The High Toll Of Overweight

August 27, 2009

Add brain loss to the litany of health problems caused by overweight and obesity. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and UCLA examined brain scans of 94 elderly people in their 70s who were healthy—not cognitively impaired—five years after the scan was taken and compared the brains of those who were obese, overweight and of normal weight to see if they had differences in brain structure. Normal-weight people were defined as having a BMI (body mass index, a height to weight ratio) between 18.5 and 25, overweight people between 25 and 30 and obese people more than 30. Their findings, published in the current online edition of the journal Human Brain Mapping, showed that obese individuals had, on average, 8 percent less brain tissue than people of normal weight and overweight people had 4 percent less. According to researcher Paul Thompson, a UCLA professor of neurology and member of UCLA’s Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, this is the first time anyone has established a link between being overweight and having what he describes as "severe brain degeneration. That’s a big loss of tissue, and it depletes your cognitive reserves, putting you at much greater risk of Alzheimer’s and other diseases that attack the brain," he explained. Lead author Cyrus A. Raji, a medical student at Pittsburgh, said, "It seems that along with increased risk for health problems such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, obesity is bad for your brain: We have linked it to shrinkage of brain areas that are also targeted by Alzheimer’s. But that could mean exercising, eating right and keeping weight under control can maintain brain health with aging and potentially lower the risk for Alzheimer’s and other dementias."