Body Mass Index, Height and Socioeconomic Position in Adolescence, Their Trajectories into Adulthood, and Cognitive Function in Midlife

J Alzheimers Dis. 2017;55(3):1207-1221. doi: 10.3233/JAD-160843.


Background: Whether life course anthropometric indices relate to cognitive function in midlife remains insufficiently explored. Rarely was socioeconomic position (SEP) adequately accounted for.

Objective: To examine the association of the cumulative life course burden of high-ranked body mass index (BMI), its trajectory, and stature with cognitive function in midlife.

Methods: Weight and height were measured from age 17 across a 33-year follow-up. 507 individuals completed a NeuroTrax computerized cognitive assessment at ages 48-52. Life course SEP was assessed by multiple methods. Using mixed models we calculated the area under the curve (AUC), representing both the life-course burden of BMI (total AUC) and trends in BMI (incremental AUC) from age 17 to midlife. The associations of BMI and height with global cognition and its five component domains were assessed by multiple regression.

Results: Higher BMI in late adolescence and total AUC over the life course were associated with poorer global cognition (Standardized beta (Beta) = -0.111, p = 0.005 and Beta = -0.105, p = 0.018, respectively), adjusted for childhood and adulthood SEP, and demographic characteristics. The associations with higher adolescent and midlife BMI were both restricted to those with low childhood SEP (p < 0.05 for interaction). Short adolescent stature was related to poorer cognition (Beta = 0.115, p = 0.040), whereas late final growth in women was associated with better cognition (Beta = 0.213, p = 0.007).

Conclusion: An adverse association of higher BMI with cognitive function began in adolescence and was restricted to low childhood SEP. Taller stature in both sexes and late growth in women were associated with better midlife cognitive performance.

Keywords: Adolescence; BMI change; body mass index; cognition; cognitive aging; height; height change; life course epidemiology; obesity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Anthropometry
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Body Weight*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cognition Disorders
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Socioeconomic Factors*
  • Young Adult