Are Kid's Growing Bellies Increasing Their Odds of Alzheimer's?
Belly fat and brain fitness are related. Adult obesity increase odds for late-life dementia and Alzheimer's. Childhood obesity sets kids up for a life-long battle with a weight problem. It's not much of a stretch to say that weight problems in adolescence set kids up for increased odds of Alzheimer's disease down the road.
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The title question may be a bit of a stretch, but you only need to connect a couple of research dots to get from childhood obesity to reduced brain fitness in older age.
Belly Fat and Brain Fitness are Related
First, a recent meta-analysis from researchers at Johns Hopkins University verified that the odds of getting Alzheimer's and other types of dementia increase as you gain weight. A meta analysis takes all previous studies on a particular topic and looks at them together to improve the statistical power over any one study by itself. This particular meta analysis looked at all studies that evaluated whether or not risk for Alzheimer's or other types of dementia is increased in obese individuals.
Some studies evaluated obesity status of people in their mid-forties, others looked at people in their mid-sixties or seventies. In any case, obesity in mid-life or late life increased odds of getting Alzheimer's disease or other dementias anywhere from 10 to 30 years later. Importantly, researchers controlled for socio-economic status, lifestyle choices, genetic factors and other illnesses so that the condition of obesity itself, seemed to be the culprit.
Adolescent Weight Problems Lead to Adult Weight Problems
The second dot to connect is that being overweight in childhood dramatically increases the odds of battling a weight problem throughout adulthood. So giving in to your kids' demands for cakes, cookies and sugared cereals now, is not doing them any favors down the road.
There are really two ways to pack on the pounds. One is to make more fat cells, and the second is to store more fat in the fat cells you already have. An important study from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, discovered that the number of fat cells you will carry throughout your adult life is really set during your adolescent years. After the age of 20, your number of fat cells will stay about constant.
Obviously, this doesn't mean that your weight is set after age 20. You can still lose weight or dramatically gain weight. It's not uncommon to gain weight in your 30s and 40s, as your activity level and metabolism slow down, especially if your food intake doesn't change. You can always lose or gain fat in the cells that you already have. However, if you gain too much weight in adolescence, when you are actively making more fat cells, you are going to set yourself up for a tough battle for the rest of your life. So as parents, we should do everything possible to regulate our kids weight while it's still somewhat in our control. If you connect these two lines of research, you can see that increased weight gain in childhood predicts increased obesity in adulthood; and increased obesity in adulthood boosts your odds of Alzheimer's and dementia in your 70s and 80s. There have not been any research studies following kids all the way from adolescence to old age to look directly at the relationship between childhood weight and dementia, but they will come eventually. Personally, I won't be surprised if these studies find increased odds of dementia with childhood obesity.
It's difficult to think of our kids as old people, but that is who they will become. We must think proactively and do everything we can to boost their odds of life-long cognitive success. If you have concerns about your own children's weight, work with your pediatrician to design a diet and exercise program and get it under control while you still can. If you struggle with a weight problem yourself, don't give up. The more effort you put in to bringing your weight under control, the better your odds of a fit brain down the road. Even if you only drop some of the weight you want to lose, every little bit helps boost those odds.
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