Study: Obesity may lower cognitive function for aging adults

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(CBS News) Older adults who a high body mass index (BMI) and a big belly may have less brain power, according to Korean study.

The study found said out of 250 test subjects involving people over 59 years old, people between 60 and 70 who had the highest BMIs also had the lowest cognitive function. There was also a connection between visceral fat -- otherwise known as the belly fat around your torso -- and poor mental abilities.

"Our findings have important public health implications. The prevention of obesity, particularly central obesity, might be important for the prevention of cognitive decline or dementia," study author Dae Hyun Yoon, a researcher at Seoul National University Hospital Healthcare System in South Korea told BBC News.

The study, which was published in the British journal Age and Aging, measured the subjects fat-related measures including BMI, waist circumference and the amount of visceral - which could be close to organs - and subcutaneous -under the skin - fat using a abdominal CT scan. Cognitive ability was determined by a test called a Mini-Mental State Examination.

While the researchers found a link between BMI and brain power, there was  no correlation found in people older than 70. In fact a higher BMI led to lower dementia risk with for folks in that age range, but it was possible that the subjects with lower BMIs lost all their weight by that age because of dementia or other medical conditions, Yoon told ABC News.

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), dementia is a group of symptoms that reflect a loss of brain function including memory, thinking, language, judgement and behavior. It is rare for anyone under 60 to have the disease.

The most common cause of progressive dementia is Alzheimer's disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. The Alzheimer's Association said affects one in eight older Americans each year or 5.4 million people. It is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S.

Obesity has been linked in several previous studies to lower cognitive function, including an NIH study that said combined presence of midlife hypertension and a high BMI and waist-to-hip ratio led to a decline in cognitive skills in over 1,800 men and women aged 40 to 69.

A September study in the Neurology journal tied high cholesterol to a raised risk for Alzheimer's, HealthPopreported. Obesity contributes to 7 percent of Alzheimer's cases, according to a recent study.

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