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NLM Director’s Comments Transcript
Memory & Reasoning Decline Linked to Adult Obesity: 10/01/2012

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Greetings from the National Library of Medicine and

Regards to all our listeners!

I'm Rob Logan, Ph.D. senior staff National Library of Medicine for Donald Lindberg, M.D, the Director of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

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Middle aged, obese men and women with high blood pressure and other metabolic challenges experience a more rapid decline in memory and thinking skills compared to normal weight adults, suggests a comprehensive study recently published in Neurology.

The findings (which are derived from the Whitehall II prospective cohort study of about 6,500 British civil servants) found middle-aged adults who were obese and had metabolic abnormalities experienced a 22.5 percent faster decline in cognitive skills compared to normal weight peers without metabolic irregularities. For obese compared to normal weight study participants, a slower but significant cognitive decline occurred regardless of metabolic abnormalities.

The Whitehall II study’s participants averaged age 50 when the research began in 1991-1993. Participant body mass index, metabolic status, and cognitive tests of memory, reasoning and verbal skills were assessed three times between 1997-2009. The authors controlled for some of the demographic predictors of adult cognitive decline found in previous research such as educational levels, height, and occupation.

The assessed metabolic abnormalities included two or more health risk factors from: high blood pressure, taking medication for high blood pressure, low HDL (or good) cholesterol, high blood sugar, taking diabetes medications, and high triglycerides (a type of fat in the bloodstream and fat tissue), or taking medication to lower triglycerides.

Obesity was defined via the standard definition of a body mass index (or BMI) of 30 or higher.

The authors conclude (and we quote): ‘In these analyses the fastest cognitive decline was observed in those with both obesity and metabolic abnormality’ (end of quote).

The authors suggest the study provides a more comprehensive assessment of the relationships among aging, weight, metabolic health, and cognition than previous research because of a large sample size, the continuing appraisal of participant cognitive capabilities, and the use of phased assessments to mitigate confounding variables.

Among the study’s limitations, the authors acknowledge the Whitehall II study’s cohort (and we quote) ‘are mostly office-based civil servants, not fully representative of the British population because the study does not include the unemployed or individuals in blue collar professions’ (end of quote).

The authors encourage researchers to further assess the extent cognitive decline may be linked to the number of years an adult is obese and the number of years a person lives with metabolic abnormalities.

Meanwhile,’s obesity health topic page carefully distinguishes between overweight (which is a BMI of 25-29.9) and obesity (which is a BMI of 30 or higher) and normal weight (which is BMI of 18.5 to 24.9). For example, a website from the Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention (available in the ‘related issues’ section of’s obesity health topic page) helps differentiate the health consequences of overweight and obesity for adults. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute provides a tool to help you calculate your BMI within the ‘health check tools’ section.

A website (also from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute) explains some of the treatment options for overweight and obesity -- and is available within the ‘treatment’ section of’s obesity health topic page.

In the ‘statistics’ section, the National Center for Health Statistics adds about one-third of adults in the U.S. (and almost 17 percent of youth) were obese in 2009-2010 (the last year data are available).

In the ‘statistics’ section, the National Center for Health Statistics adds about one-third of adults in the U.S. (and almost 17 percent of youth) were obese in 2009-2010 (the last year data are available).

To find’s obeisty health topic page, type ‘obesity – that’s O…B…E…S…I…T…Y’ in the search box on’s home page, then, click on ‘Obesity (National Library of Medicine).’ A link to health topic pages that cover an array of metabolic problems is accessible within ‘related topics’ on the right side of’s obesity health topic page.

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A disclaimer – the information presented in this program should not replace the medical advice of your physician. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any disease without first consulting with your physician or other health care provider. I want to take the opportunity to wish you a very happy holiday season and a healthy New Year. The National Library of Medicine and the 'Director's Comments' podcast staff, including Dr. Lindberg, appreciate your interest and company – and we hope to find new ways to serve you in 2012.

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