Midlife Obesity Now The Number One Dementia Risk Factor
In recent years there has been a lot written about the remarkable relationship between physical inactivity and risk for Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, until quite recently, physical inactivity was regarded as the number one modifiable risk factor associated with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias in the United States.
Interestingly, however, in the past decade, there has been a shift that has led us to recognize that the number one modifiable risk factor related to the development of Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias is obesity during midlife.
In a recent study evaluating close to 400,000 individuals, eight specific modifiable lifestyle factors that have been associated with risk for Alzheimer’s disease were explored in terms of their relationship to future development of Alzheimer’s disease. These include physical inactivity, depression, current smoking, low education, diabetes type-2, midlife hypertension, midlife obesity, and hearing loss.
About a third of the cases of Alzheimer’s or other associated dementias were associated with a combination of these factors with midlife obesity leading the way in terms of being associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease or other associated dementias.
Overall, men demonstrated a stronger relationship of these eight risk factors in the development of Alzheimer’s or related dementia’s than did women. In addition, and importantly, a relatively higher relationship with respect to these risk factors and development of Alzheimer’s or related dementias was seen in American Indian, black individuals, and Hispanic individuals in comparison to Asians and whites.
The authors concluded:
“Midlife obesity, physical inactivity, and low education represented the top 3 modifiable risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s or related dementias in the US in this study. Together with depression, smoking, diabetes, hearing loss, and midlife hypertension, they were associated with one-third of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias in the US overall… Understanding the sex-specific and race and ethnicity–specific associations with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias burden may guide public health strategies. Policymakers and clinicians should also consider increasing efforts to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias by focusing on midlife obesity, physical inactivity, and low education, especially in higher- risk groups.“
Currently, around 6 million Americans have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, a disease for which there is no meaningful, FDA approved pharmaceutical treatment. This study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, one of the most highly regarded medical journals on the planet, makes it very clear that each of us plays a role in charting our own brain’s destiny. Our choices determine our level of physical exercise, whether we choose to smoke or not, whether we are consuming a diet that increases our risk for diabetes or not, and ultimately, based upon our lifestyle choices, whether or not we become obese during midlife.
So, I bring this information to light in order to further empower our readers with the science as it relates to Alzheimer’s disease. At the end of the day, it’s pretty much up to each and everyone of us to make the right decisions. And this information certainly drives home the point in terms of where our decisions may lead.