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Waists bigger than 33.5ins 'may carry a higher risk of DEMENTIA'

Waists bigger than 33.5ins for women or 35.5ins for men ‘may carry a higher risk of DEMENTIA’ even if people aren’t overweight

  • Waist size was an indicator of dementia risk over BMI in study participants
  • Even those with a normal BMI had a higher risk if they had fat around the middle 
  • Researchers said doctors should use waist size rather than BMI for dementia risk

Waists bigger than 33.5ins for women or 35.5ins for men may carry a higher risk of dementia even if someone isn’t overweight, a study suggests. 

A study of 870,000 people over 65 showed the bigger the waist size, the larger the risk of dementia.

This was true regardless of their weight, measured by the standard body mass index (BMI).

Previous research has shown that obesity increases the chances of developing dementia. But now evidence is emerging that stomach fat is particularly risky. 

Extra pounds round the middle, called abdominal visceral fat, is fat which sits between the organs. It is a concern for a variety of health problems.

Older adults who are apple-shaped with fat around their middle are at a higher risk of developing dementia, a study in Korea suggests (stock)

The study by Dr Geum Joon Cho at Korea University in Seoul, South Korea involved over-65s who were part of a national health screening examination in 2009. 

By the time half of them had been followed for at least 6.5 years, 13 per cent had been newly diagnosed with dementia.

Normal-weight participants with fat around the middle had a significantly increased risk, researchers report in the journal Obesity.

The study doesn’t prove that extra fat around the waist causes dementia in healthy-weight individuals; it only suggests a link between the conditions.

BMI, a ratio of weight to height, has long been used to look for links between obesity and dementia. 

The authors of the new study contend that waist circumference is a better indicator of excess fat than BMI. 


As we age, fat tends to accumulate around the middle, otherwise known as ‘middle-age spread’.  

Scientists have found that as our waistlines grow, so do our health risks. 

Fat accumulated in the lower body tends to make people pear shape, while subcutaneous fat around the abdominal area causes an apple shape.

Abdominal, or visceral, fat is of particular concern because it’s a key player in a variety of health problems — much more so than subcutaneous fat, the kind you can grasp with your hand. 

Visceral fat lies deep within the abdominal cavity, where it pads the spaces between our abdominal organs.

Visceral fat has been linked to metabolic disturbances and increased risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. In women, it is also associated with breast cancer and the need for gallbladder surgery. 

Visceral fat is directly linked with higher total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol, lower HDL (good) cholesterol, and insulin resistance.

In the past decade, research has found abdominal fat may also affect dementia risk. The mechanism behind this is unclear. 

Source: Harvard Health 

This is especially true in older people, whose weight may stay the same even thought they have lost muscle due to ageing while also gaining fat.

Dr Cho and colleagues said doctors should start looking at an older person’s waist size when assessing their risk for dementia. 

An independent expert agreed with the researchers that in late life, waist circumference may be a better measure of obesity.

Dr Katherine Possin, a researcher at the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California, added: ‘Successful treatment of obesity can substantially reduce dementia risk.’ 

Participants who were overweight or obese had a lower risk of dementia than normal-weight individuals, but those who were underweight had the highest risk of all.

Dr Katherine Possin said the increased risk of dementia in underweight individuals may be due to underlying medical conditions. 

A low weight often reflects a loss of lean muscle mass, which may be due to medical conditions or a change in eating behaviour. While overweight people are more likely to have maintained their lean muscle mass.  

Dr Sarah Szanton, director of the Center for Innovative Care in Aging at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing in Baltimore, said: ‘The onset of dementia is really complicated and we don’t completely understand it yet. 

‘But there seems to be something related to central adiposity (abdominal fat) that can relate to incidence of dementia.’ 

She believes that despite the new findings regarding waist size, doctors will continue to focus on whether an elderly patient is getting regular, well-balanced meals.

She said: ‘In geriatrics, we try not to focus too much on someone’s weight. It’s much more around quality of life and staying active and getting a range of things (to eat).’   

It’s not clear why abdominal fat increases dementia risk, but it may do so indirectly, by increasing risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  

That’s according to Kaiser Permanente Division of Research, Oakland, who also found abdominal fat may increase people’s risk of developing dementia.

Their 2008 study, published in Neurology, found those with the highest waist measurements were 360 per cent more likely to develop dementia than those with the lowest measurements. 


Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of neurological disorders


Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders, that is, conditions affecting the brain.

There are many different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.

Some people may have a combination of types of dementia.

Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience their dementia in their own unique way.

Dementia is a global concern but it is most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live into very old age.


The Alzheimer’s Society reports there are more than 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK today, of which more than 500,000 have Alzheimer’s.

It is estimated that the number of people living with dementia in the UK by 2025 will rise to over 1 million.

In the US, it’s estimated there are 5.5 million Alzheimer’s sufferers. A similar percentage rise is expected in the coming years.

As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of them developing dementia.

Rates of diagnosis are improving but many people with dementia are thought to still be undiagnosed.


Currently there is no cure for dementia.

But new drugs can slow down its progression and the earlier it is spotted the more effective treatments are.

Source: Alzheimer’s Society 

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