En español | Pear-shaped women who pack on the pounds as they age may have more memory problems than apple-shaped women with fat bellies.
A new study from Northwestern University’s medical school found that it’s not just how much weight you gain but where it ends up that can affect brain function as women age.
Kerwin cautions, however, against over-simplifying the study as “apples versus pears” and ignoring the more important message that “heavier women are at a greater risk of losing brain function.”
But some experts caution against even drawing a causal link between midlife weight gain and dementia in later years.
Barbara Corkey with Boston University’s Obesity Research Center says much of the recent research is “correlational”—meaning it shows that two things are related, but not that one is necessarily causing the other.
“It could be that decreased brain function causes a change in body weight” and not the other way around, she says. It’s even possible that a third, still-unknown factor is affecting both outcomes. “Either way, it deserves to be tested,” she adds.
Molly Wagster of the National Institute of Aging also agrees that this is a complicated subject. She noted that the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging this year found that obesity “is most strongly associated with declines in memory,” but scores on other tests, such as visual-spatial function, were improved.
“Maybe obesity affects the brain in selective ways. It’s not entirely clear,” she says. But while we wait for more definitive research to be done, one piece of advice is still clear, she says. “We need to be vigilant about not putting on weight in midlife.”
Candy Sagon writes about health and nutrition for the AARP Bulletin.