There’s no denying it: obesity is all over the media. If you flip on the television, you’ll see an onslaught of statistics, medical conditions, and weight loss tips for those who are overweight. Now, to add to these reports, two studies reveal that packing on the pounds not only poses physical problems, but is unhealthy for the brain as well.
In 2009, researchers from UCLA found that obese people had 8 percent less brain tissue than normal-weight individuals and their brains appeared 16 years older than their thinner counterparts. Similarly, those classified as overweight had 4 percent less brain tissue, and their brains appeared to have aged prematurely by 8 years.
These results, based on the brain scans of 94 people in their 70s, represented severe brain degeneration and a greater risk of Alzheimer’s and other diseases that target the brain.
In the study, obese people had lost brain tissue in the frontal and temporal lobes (areas of the brain critical for planning and memory). Loss also occurred in the anterior cingulated gyrus, (responsible for attention and executive functions); the hippocampus (associated with long-term memory); and the basal ganglia (responsible for movement).
A second study, conducted in 2012 by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, found the brains of obese people work harder than those of normal weight people to achieve the same results. Researchers quizzed 29 people who were having fMRIs and recognized a trend: the connections between parts of the brain responsible for memory and decision-making were hyperactive in overweight people, but functioned normally in average weight people. This is because high blood pressure and inflammation, which go hand-in-hand with obesity, irritate the brain’s communication system, thus making it harder for messages to pass through.
Today, one-third of American adults are overweight. Another third of the population is obese, for a combined 68.8 percent of the total population that is at risk for health problems related to weight. Losing as little as 5 to 7 percent of total weight lowers blood pressure, improves blood sugar levels, and lowers diabetes by nearly 60 percent in people with pre-diabetes.
These numbers, correlate perfectly with an increase portion sizes in America. To illustrate, the average size of a bagel more than doubled between 1983 and 2003, going from a three-inch diameter with 140 calories to a six-inch diameter with 350 calories. In 2009, roughly 94 percent of schools served lunches that failed to meet federal standards for healthy school meals. Eighty percent of the lunches served in these schools exceeded federal recommendations for total fat and saturated fat.
To protect yourself from the connection between obesity and brain degeneration, get your weight under control. This is especially important for women, who are more likely than men to suffer degeneration later in life because of weight issues. The longer you’re overweight, the more susceptible you are to gradual degeneration. To keep your weight in check, employ a regular exercise routine and eat balanced, nutritious meals without relying on processed foods. Another preventive method is to try brain teasers; these activities keep you mentally active to safeguard your brain from Alzheimer’s disease.