Most everyone knows the physical benefits of maintaining a healthy weight but it is only recently that studies are linking healthy weight and Alzheimer’s. Researchers have found that early onset Alzheimer’s is more likely in those who are considered obese and have exceed recommended Body Mass Index levels.
A World Health Organization study has shown that in almost six out of seven countries studied, over-abundant food supplies is resulting in obesity. Other studies, discussed below, show a link between a health weight and Alzheimer’s and how obesity can influence the timing of the initial onset of of Alzheimer’s and dementia symptoms.
Obesity is a known risk factor in a plethora of health problems. It plays a role in:
- Heart disease
- Cancer (esophageal, pancreatic, colon and rectal, breast, kidney, thyroid, gall bladder, others)
But only recently are we seeing the positive effects that maintaining a healthy weight will have on maintaining a healthy brain. A healthy weight and Alzheimer’s symptoms are intertwined.
Obesity and Longevity
A study by the National Cancer Institute showed that statistically people with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 55 to 59.9 lost almost fourteen years off their lives on average. Those with a BMI of 50 to 54.9 lost almost ten years off their lives. Those with BMI of 45 to 49.9 lost an average of 8.9 years.
People who smoke but have normal weight also lose about 8.9 years of life. So, being very obese (BMI of 40 or more) is as threatening to a longer life as cigarette smoking.
Obesity is defined as having a BMI of 30 or more, so the large loss of years of life impacts those who were higher on the obesity scale more than those on the lower side of the scale.
Obesity and Dementia/Alzheimer’s Disease
The National Institute on Aging found that dementia and Alzheimer’s have earlier onset rates in people who are obese. A mere one-unit increase in BMI at age 50 was related to a seven month earlier onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Those who are on the higher end of the BMI scale may develop these diseases a full ten years before they would have if they had maintained a healthy weight.
The researchers found that the higher a person’s BMI during midlife, the greater the levels of “neurofibrillary tangles” and the protein that fragments into brain plaque, thus impeding brain function. Therefore, BMI and dementia and Alzheimer’s are not only concerns for seniors. Middle-aged people can engage in preventive measures and stave off these neuro-degenerative diseases by staying within the healthiest range of BMI.
BMI can be calculated by the following formula:
BMI = weight in pounds x 703 divided by height in inches squared.
For example, a woman weighing 154 pounds who is 5 feet, 6 inches tall would have a BMI of 24.85. Calculated as follows
BMI = 108262 divided by 4356 (66 inches squared) = 24.85.
This person is within the healthy BMI range.
For the math-challenged, BMI can be calculated by entering one’s height and weight on an online calculator, which may be found at the website of the National Institutes of Health at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmicalc.htm.
The healthiest BMI for adults is 18.5 – 24.9.
A BMI of 25 to 29.9 means a person is overweight.
A BMI of 30 to 39 means a person is obese.
A BMI of 40 or more is very obese.
Obesity Is Climbing
Sharon Begley quotes The National Center for Health Statistics that 36% of American adults are obese. The numbers are climbing, and in ensuing decades it is likely that half of all American adults will be obese. Most developing countries share this problem, as well.
More on a healthy brain from SeniorsMatter: Exercise Helps Dementia
Unless those in well-fed countries learn to restrict their calorie intake, the increasing number of people with earlier-onset dementia and Alzheimer’s will increase exponentially. This will overwhelm health care systems, caregivers, and potentially cost those who are obese a great reduction in their quality of life.
“Adults obese or overweight at midlife may be at risk for earlier onset of Alzheimer’s Disease.” National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, September 1, 2015. Available online at:
Begley, Sharon. “Being Extremely Obese Is Worse For You Than Smoking.” Business Insider, July 8, 2014. Available online at: http://www.businessinsider.com/r-extreme-obesity-cuts-lifespan-more-than-smoking-study-2014-08.
BMI Calculator. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Available online at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmicalc.htm.
Knapton, Sarah, Science Editor. “Britain’s obesity epidemic fuelled by sheer abundance of food.” The Telegraph, June 30, 2015. Available online at:
Obesity and Cancer Risk, National Cancer Institute. Information available online at: http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/obesity/obesity-fact-sheet.