Is body mass index in old age related to cognitive abilities? The Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 Study

Psychol Aging. 2010 Dec;25(4):867-75. doi: 10.1037/a0020301.


We tested the hypothesis that the previously reported association between a higher body mass index (BMI) and poorer cognition in later adulthood is an artifact of confounding by previous cognitive ability and socioeconomic status. Participants were 1,079 adults aged about 70 years in the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 Study, on whom there are IQ data from age 11. Cognitive outcome measures included: IQ at age 70 using the same test that was administered at age 11; composite measures of general cognitive ability (g factor), speed of information processing, and memory; and two tests of verbal ability. People classified as overweight or obese in later adulthood had significantly lower scores on tests of childhood IQ, age 70 IQ, g factor, and verbal ability. There was no significant association with processing speed or memory performance. After adjusting for childhood IQ and social class in general linear models, associations with age 70 IQ and g factor were nonsignificant or attenuated. However, throughout the models, there was a persistent (inverse) relationship between BMI and performance on the National Adult Reading Test (NART) and Wechsler Test of Adult Reading (WTAR), which remained significant after full adjustment for all sociodemographic and health covariates (for the NART, p = .025; for the WTAR, p = .011). The findings suggest that the previously reported BMI-cognition associations in later adulthood could be largely accounted for by prior ability and socioeconomic status, and by the possible influence of these factors on the adoption of health behaviors in adulthood.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged / physiology
  • Aged / psychology*
  • Aging / physiology
  • Aging / psychology
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Child
  • Cognition* / physiology
  • Humans
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Linear Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Reading
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Wechsler Scales