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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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Lose It: Fat Might Raise Dementia Risk

Obesity Could Increase Risk of Alzheimer's Disease
WebMD Health News

July 11, 2003 -- It's serious news for overweight people: Obesity may increase your risk for Alzheimer's disease.

Obesity joins a growing list of lifestyle risk factors for Alzheimer's -- high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

This newest study is "probably the first to look at obesity as an independent risk factor for Alzheimer's disease... and the first to follow patients for a long period of time," which gives considerable credibility to the findings, says lead researcher Deborah Gustafson, PhD, a professor in family and community medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

Her study, conducted in Sweden, appears in this week's issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

The Details

In their study, Gustafson and her Swedish colleagues tracked 392 men and women -- all age 70 at the study's beginning -- for 18 years. Each had a battery of exams every five years or so, including brain scans to identify onset of dementia. The findings:

  • Women who developed Alzheimer's disease between the ages of 79 and 88 were significantly more likely to have been overweight at ages 70, 75, and 79, reports Gustafson.

  • Women with Alzheimer's had a body mass index (BMI) about four units higher than women without dementia, she adds.

BMI is a measure of body fat, taking into account a person's height and weight. A BMI between 19 and 25 is considered normal, over 25 is overweight, and 30 or higher is obese. An example: A woman who is 5 feet 4 inches tall, weighing 170 pounds, would have a BMI of 29.

  • In this study, a woman's risk of Alzheimer's increased by 36% with each notch over a BMI of 25, says Gustafson.

  • Women with a BMI of 25 -- what's considered a moderate, healthy weight -- were less likely to have dementia. "That's not super-skinny, it's kind of borderline between healthy and overweight," says Gustafson.

Men in this study did not have such a high risk of Alzheimer's disease. "Very few men lived the full 18 years of the study, and very few of those were demented," she explains. However, because the number of men was so small, the results may be skewed, she adds.

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