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A presentation discussing the future impact of the rise of obesity related dementia was presentedMay 12, at the 20th European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Liverpool, UK. Study results indicate that those who are obese in midlife to be at greater risk for dementia in later life, and that changing lifestyle patterns in order to maintain a healthy weight, may lead to a decreased risk for developing dementia in the future.

The risk of developing dementia increases with age, and is characterized by declining cognitive function affecting memory, attention and language. As the population ages, people are living longer which adds an increased burden to the healthcare system. While it is commonly understood that obesity increases risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, and type 2 diabetes, how it is a precursor to dementia is still unclear, yet most researchers accept a connection does exist.

In Sunday’s presentation, Dr. Laura Webber and Mr. Tim Marsh from the UK Health Forum projected various obesity trends to 2050, estimating the health impact and economic burden of obesity related dementia. They believe that based on available data, England’s current obesity rate of 24% in men and 26% in women will grow to 46% for men and 31% for women by 2050. Citing research such as the 2013 Loef and Walach study that suggests midlife obesity can lead to a doubled risk for later life dementia, Webber and Marsh predict the UK current dementia rate for those over 65 to increase from 4.89% to 6.6% by 2050. According to Alzheimer’s Research UK, this would impact UK’s total current £23bn/year costs associated with dementia to grow to £41bn/year by 2050.

That a greater risk for dementia later in life exists for those obese in midlife, is not an unfamiliar concept for the United States. A 2005 Kaiser Permanente study in Northern California studied 10,276 men and women 40-45 years. This study showed that over a 27 year span, compared to those of normal weight (body mass index (BMI)18.6-24.9), overweight participants (BMI 25-29.9%) were 35% more likely to develop dementia, while those that were obese (BMI ≥ 30) had a 74% increased risk for developing the disease.

While it may be easy to see the effects of an expanding waistline, the unseen long term effects to health have economic ramifications in America as well. According to the Center for Disease Control, United States 2008 medical costs associated with obesity were 147 million.

That there are diseases associated with aging is a fact, yet the information offered at the ECO show that current lifestyle changes can have positive health benefits for the future “We know that age is the biggest risk factor for dementia," says Dr. Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, "and while we can’t change our age, research suggests that lifestyle choices during midlife could help to keep our brains healthy as we age. Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, regular exercise and not smoking could all help to reduce the risk of dementia and are things that people can think about doing at any age.”

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