The Prevalence and Determinants of Cognitive Deficits and Traditional Diabetic Complications in the Severely Obese

Diabetes Care. 2020 Mar;43(3):683-690. doi: 10.2337/dc19-1642. Epub 2020 Jan 13.


Objective: To determine the prevalence of cognitive deficits and traditional diabetic complications and the association between metabolic factors and these outcomes.

Research design and methods: We performed a cross-sectional study in severely obese individuals before bariatric surgery. Lean control subjects were recruited from a research website. Cognitive deficits were defined by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Toolbox (<5th percentile for lean control subjects). Cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy (CAN) was defined by an expiration-to-inspiration (E-to-I) ratio of <5th percentile for lean control subjects. Retinopathy was based on retinal photographs and nephropathy on the estimated glomerular filtration rate (<60 mg/dL) and/or the albumin-to-creatinine ratio (ACR) (≥30 mg/g). NIH Toolbox, E-to-I ratio, mean deviation on frequency doubling technology testing, and ACR were used as sensitive measures of these outcomes. We used multivariable linear regression to explore associations between metabolic factors and these outcomes.

Results: We recruited 138 severely obese individuals and 46 lean control subjects. The prevalence of cognitive deficits, CAN, retinopathy, and nephropathy were 6.5%, 4.4%, 0%, and 6.5% in lean control subjects; 22.2%, 18.2%, 0%, and 6.1% in obese participants with normoglycemia; 17.7%, 21.4%, 1.9%, and 17.9% in obese participants with prediabetes; and 25.6%, 31.9%, 6.1%, and 16.3% in obese participants with diabetes. Waist circumference was significantly associated with cognitive function (-1.48; 95% CI -2.38, -0.57) and E-to-I ratio (-0.007; 95% CI -0.012, -0.002). Prediabetes was significantly associated with retinal function (-1.78; 95% CI -3.56, -0.002).

Conclusions: Obesity alone is likely sufficient to cause cognitive deficits but not retinopathy or nephropathy. Central obesity is the key metabolic risk factor.