Weight Problems Are Not Just Physical.

Getting back into your skinny jeans is not the only reason to get back in shape after holiday indulgence. While the physical ramifications of too many slices of pie are easy to see—and feel—you may not be aware of a more serious consequence. 

A recent study led by Nicolas Cherbuin, PhD, Director of the Neuroimaging and Brain Lab at Australian National University, found that the brains of overweight and obese older adults were worse off as a result of their weight.  Conducted over eight years, the study evaluated 420 individuals between the ages of 60-64 and found that overweight and obese participants started with a relatively lower memory capacity and that it declined more rapidly. 

The reason? Excess weight shrinks the hippocampus, a small area of the brain that plays a big role in long-term memory and mood stability, by nearly two percent each year—a rate comparable to that seen in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

It's a fitting conclusion considering the trajectory of past studies on weight loss and cognitive decline. In 2008, Anna Dahl, Ph.D, Associate Professor at the Institute of Gerontology, School of Health Sciences, published a study concluding that a high BMI (body mass index) should not be considered a risk factor for dementia. Four years later, she published another study, finding that while “no firm conclusions could be drawn” with regards to cognitive aging in overweight older adults, mid-life obesity did lead to cognitive aging.

Cherbuin explains these earlier findings may have been influenced by the fact that “dementia and Alzheimer’s disease pathology is associated with weight loss,” meaning weight loss might be a result of these brain diseases.  By restricting his study to older adults without cognitive impairments, Cherbuin was able to show the negative effects being overweight can have on brain health.

And not just on older people. Cherbuin says that “obese children appear to have early brain changes associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease,” and says the same goes for animals studied. The cognitive effects of obesity can begin at any age, and the longer we wait to get in shape, the worse the damage can get.

So even if you think our culture places too much emphasis on thinness, it’s worth keeping your weight in check because… What was I going to say, again? I forgot. Better hit the gym and break out the food diary.


  1. Nicolas Cherbuin, PhD
  2. National Geographic
  3. US National LIbrary of Medicine
  4. Obestity and Cognitive Aging