Midlife obesity and trajectories of brain volume changes in older adults

Hum Brain Mapp. 2012 Sep;33(9):2204-10. doi: 10.1002/hbm.21353. Epub 2011 Aug 30.


Although obesity has been linked to structural brain changes, little is known about its associations with the rates of brain atrophy. We examined associations between global (BMI) and central (waist circumference) midlife obesity and subsequent trajectories of regional brain atrophy in 152 individuals [M (age) = 69 ± 7.8] prospectively followed through the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging; 21 individuals became impaired during follow-up. We report no associations (P > 0.05) between either global or central midlife obesity and subsequent rates of regional brain volume changes against a background of age-related atrophy in older individuals who remained nondemented. When looking at the entire sample, greater decline was observed in the volume of gray matter, precuneus, cingulate and orbito-frontal gyri for globally obese (P < 0.03), even though only data up to the point of dementia diagnosis were included in the analyses (i.e., while still considered clinically normal). Moreover, when trajectories of regional volume changes were examined across the range of BMI and waist circumference values instead of employing a cut-off point to define obesity, a different pattern of results emerged. Overall, our results suggest that midlife obesity may be an important modifier of brain atrophy in individuals who are developing cognitive impairment and dementia, while it has little effect on structural brain integrity in nondemented older adults. Moreover, the discrepancies in findings between studies may be in part due to participant sampling and methodological differences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology
  • Anthropometry
  • Body Mass Index
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / pathology
  • Disease Progression
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / pathology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuroimaging
  • Obesity / pathology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Waist Circumference