ATLANTA (CBS Atlanta) — A new study finds that obesity is linked to a faster rate of mental decline.

The study – published in Neurology — used over 6,000 participants between the ages of 39-63 and examined them over a period of 10 years.

“In the last 10 years or so, people started suggesting you could be fit and fat – you could be obese and metabolically healthy and have no health risk,” Archanan Singh-Manoux, the lead author in the study and research director at Inserm, the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, told the Wall Street Journal.

The study showed that the participants who were obese, yet metabolically normal, still went on to show a significant mental decline.

“All of these individuals, whether they were metabolically healthy or not healthy, had a poor cognitive profile,” Dr. Singh-Manoux told the Journal.

The study reported that all the participants underwent a battery of cognitive tests – which included reasoning, memory, semantic and phonemic fluency — at three different points throughout the 10-year period. Nearly 53 percent of the participants were of normal weight, 38 percent were overweight and 9 percent were obese. Also, 31 percent of those had metabolic abnormalities.

“The obese participants with risk factors started out cognitively older, with test scores at the start of the study of a normal-weight, metabolically normal person who was seven years older,” Dr. Singh-Manoux told the Journal.

Deborah R. Gustafson, a visiting professor at the State University of New York-Downstate Medical Center, believes the study shows that high-blood pressure affects the brain.

“High blood-sugar levels and elevated blood pressure may contribute to changes in blood vessels and the brain,” Gustafson told the Journal. “Fat tissue may lead to hormonal imbalances that negatively affect the brain.”

Researchers found that aerobic exercise may lower the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health in the U.S. It used data from a larger Whitehall II cohort study, which studied over 10,000 British civil servants since 1985.


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