Researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s Comprehensive Center for Brain Health recently conducted a study to determine the link between obesity, low muscle tissue and dementia, which is an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease.
To do so, they used data from a series of aging and memory studies that examined 353 people with an average age of 69 years old. The researchers evaluated the individuals who were “skinny fat,” the combination of low muscle mass and strength in the context of high fat mass, and their performances on various cognition tests.
After analyzing the results, they found that the “skinny fat” subjects had the lowest performance on global cognition, followed by those with just sarcopenia alone and then those who were only obese.
The researchers discovered that obesity and sarcopenia, when assessed independently, were associated with lower executive function, such as working memory, mental flexibility, self-control and orientation. But executive function was even lower when obesity and sarcopenia occurred together.
“Understanding the mechanisms through which this syndrome may affect cognition is important as it may inform efforts to prevent cognitive decline in later life by targeting at-risk groups with an imbalance between lean and fat mass,” senior author James E. Galvin said in a statement. “They may benefit from programs addressing loss of cognitive function by maintaining and improving strength and preventing obesity.”
Scientists are unsure why obesity is associated with cognitive dysfunction. However, they believe sedentary behavior, inflammation, and vascular damage could be factors. On the other hand, sarcopenia has already been linked to impairments in abilities that relate to conflict resolution and selective attention.
They concluded that “skinny fat” is a “significant public health concern” and are encouraging doctors to pay attention to patients who could be at risk.
“Sarcopenia either alone or in the presence of obesity, can be used in clinical practice to estimate potential risk of cognitive impairment,” coauthor Magdalena I. Tolea. “Testing grip strength by dynamometry can be easily administered within the time constraints of a clinic visit, and body mass index is usually collected as part of annual wellness visits.”