Excessive body fat around the middle linked to smaller brain, study says

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BMI is a formula involving a person's weight and height; a BMI score between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered healthy, while above 30 is considered obese.

The new findings, published January 9 in the journal Neurology, suggest that the combination of obesity (as measured by body mass index, or BMI) and a high waist-to-hip ratio may be a risk factor for brain shrinkage, the researchers said.

People with a high waist-to-hip ratio can be men with beer bellies or women with "muffin tops" who have slimmer hips compared to their abdomen.

Mark Hamer of Loughborough University, who led the study, said that previous research on whether extra body fat was detrimental to brain size had been inconclusive. This effect remained strong even after researchers accounted for other factors that might affect brain volume, including age, smoking history, education, physical activity and history of mental illness.

"We also found links between obesity and shrinkage in specific regions of the brain".

Gray matter contains most of the brain's nerve cells and includes brain regions involved in self-control, muscle control and sensory perception.

The study looked at 9,652 people with an average age of 55.

They found nearly 1,300 study participants were obese and apple-shaped, and that they had less grey matter, which is important for thinking skills. Obesity, low BMI linked to increased risk of death, study reveals The study also showed no real differences in white matter brain volume linked to obesity. People in the middle, with a high BMI but without high waist-to-hip ratio, had an of 793 cubic centimeters. The findings of the study, which was published in the journal Neurology on January 9, suggest that the combination of obesity and high waist-to-hip ratio could be a risk factor for brain shrinkage, which has been tied to elevated risk for memory decline and dementia. It is possible that individuals with lower volumes of gray matter in some brain areas have increased the risk of obesity.

"While our study found obesity, especially around the middle, was associated with lower grey matter brain volumes, it's unclear if abnormalities in brain structure lead to obesity or if obesity leads to these changes in the brain", said Hamer.

Though the study didn't look at potential mechanisms linking visceral fat and brain shrinkage, one hypothesis is that this type of fat is thought to produce inflammatory substances that may play a role in brain atrophy, the researchers said.

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