Watch your weight – for your brain’s sake

Source: http://static.howstuffworks.com/gif/brain-1.jpg

Source: http://static.howstuffworks.com/gif/brain-1.jpg

News related to obesity has recently been splattered all over the news, even more than usual in my opinion.  The latest headline is that obese or overweight patients had significantly less brain matter than those whose weights were considered normal.  The research article, “Brain Structure and Obesity,” resulted from a collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and was published online this month in the scientific journal Human Brain Mapping.  The senior author on the publication was quoted in the U. S. News & World Report as saying, “The brains of obese people looked 16 years older than their healthy counterparts while [those of] overweight people looked 8 years older.”

An important thing to note about the research article is that their test subjects were an average age of 77 years old; therefore, these specific results are only applicable to the elderly population.  I looked through the research article itself and was happy to see that the genders were fairly represented in the test groups, with women comprising approximately 50% of the patients tested in normal, overweight, and obese groups.  As presented in the paper, authors did not find any striking differences correlated to gender; their results were equally applicable to both men and women.  It was acknowledged that there is some controversy among scientists regarding the association between brain volume and gender, and the authors cited additional published studies from other laboratories.  It was noted in their conclusion that gender effects are an important variable to pay attention to in future studies.  You can access a summary of the research article here.

Obesity is a sensitive issue for everyone, but a 2006 study suggested that it may affect the quality of life of women more than men.  A team led by Dr. Peter Muennig of Columbia University looked at existing data from a 2000 survey on health and quality of life.  More than 13,000 adults participated in this survey administered by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.  Dr. Muennig and colleagues also incorporated data from 1990-1995 on death rates in the U. S. into their study.  They concluded that health-related drops in quality of life scores were four times higher for overweight women than overweight men, and more than two times higher for obese women than obese men.  More strikingly, the authors found that there were about twice as many deaths among overweight and obese women than for men (when compared to their normal-weight counterparts) for the time represented in their study.  WebMD has a nice summary of the article here (including its caveats), or you can access the full article for free through PubMed Central.

You can help further these studies by participating in ventures such as the Illinois Women’s Health Registry, or similar surveys administered in your state (or country, etc.)!  What do you think about these studies and their results?   Has obesity affected you or your loved ones in any way?

74 Comments

  1. Candace Tingen
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Great blog post, Alison!!

    That’s such an odd finding. They didn’t find a loss of brain activity, but a loss of actual brain tissue?? Creepy! Other than neurodegenerative diseases that cause big holes in the brain tissue, I wasn’t aware that the brain could just lose mass, especially from something so seemingly unrelated as weight gain. Did they give any guesses to why the correlation exists?

  2. Alison
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    They didn’t think the correlation was direct, i.e. that obesity caused loss in brain volume or vice versa. Instead, they think it was an indirect relationship caused by factors that can affect both body mass index and brain tissue like reduced exercise, respiratory defects, or Type II diabetes among others. There definitely needs to be more follow-up work done to tease out where the direct relationships are!

  3. SBG
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Alison, what great articles! The increased obesity rates over the past 20 years are staggering and it’s very concerning as a parent. You want to feed your child well and give them the best start, but so much of the information is difficult to decipher. Plus we are surrounded by junk food all the time!

    Check out this CDC link if you haven’t already and click through the years. http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.html

    With asthma and allergies, autism, gluten insensitivity, ADHD, all having links to nutrition, as a country we really need to focus our energy on prevention and wellness. I truly believe many diseases and health conditions can be avoided simply by altering our diets. The tricky thing is to figure out how and to have will-power.

    Two main culprits I desperately try to stay away from are high fructose corn syrup and any product that has the word hydrogenated in the label (although I do love my Coffee-mate creamer).

  4. Candace Tingen
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    You’d think eating lots of stuff with extra hydrogen would make us lighter! Hahahaha.

    To bring out another point about the interplay between science and government/society, the only real reason we have so much HFCS in our diets in the US is because our government has made corn a much cheaper sweetener than regular sugar. By placing high import fees and taxes on sugar, they protect the interests of the American farmer, possibly at the health risk to all of us. Yet another reason we should all stay educated on the science that directly affects us.

  5. Posted October 21, 2009 at 1:22 am | Permalink

    This is an interesting research about how our brain affects our weight. I am wondering if brain power of individual has something to do with obesity? Indeed reserach like this is always a good read. TFS!

  6. Posted October 23, 2009 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    it is said that a 2006 study suggested that Obesity may affect the quality of life of women more than men. Well, all women should aware of this. anyway, thanks for sharing

  7. anita
    Posted November 9, 2009 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    yes, lots of disease came from obesity ,and 60% of U.S people are overweight, how can we fix it? that`s the question

    btw thanks for this nice info

  8. Posted December 8, 2009 at 1:10 am | Permalink

    There is some conscise information here about fertility, miscarriages and also fatality in women due to gluten intolerance. I’ve noticed 2 references from medical journals which highlight the risks involved when women go undiagnosed and untreated. Quite important really, especially when you consider the increase risk of death.

  9. Posted December 13, 2009 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    This is very interesting research. As being overweight or obese can cause so many other health problems too, it really reinforces the need, particularly for women, to maintain a healthy weight.

  10. Steve Benedict
    Posted December 15, 2009 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    As a former Montana state legislator and Chair of the Health and Human Services committee, I try to read all the blogs on health I can…mens or womens health makes no difference to me. We are all in this together. My wife of 41 years read this post and was very disturbed. She is not obese, but does carry extra weight. She is now learning all she can about obesity and brain function. Her sisters are very obese,in their 60′s and she worries about them, too. Thanks for the thought provoking article.

  11. Posted December 27, 2009 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    With Obesity being such a major problem in the U.S today , I would like to think that the govt would make Healthy Veg meals more cheaper, and possibly raise the taxes on the fatty starchy foods.

  12. Posted December 27, 2009 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Obesity may affect the quality of life of women more than men. Well, all women should aware of this. Obesity can also affect relationships , ie, keeping one healthy & also getting into one in the first place.

  13. Posted December 31, 2009 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    What a great reminder of how important it is to watch our weight.

    There are so many reasons why North Americans should do everything in their power to avoid obesity and this study (“Brain Structure and Obesity”) is another reason to keep a healthy weight as we age.

    Thanks for the great article!

    Krizia

  14. Posted January 4, 2010 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Obesity is the most prevalent, fatal, chronic, relapsing disorder of the 21st century. Obesity is a leading cause of United States mortality, morbidity, disability, healthcare utilization and healthcare costs.

  15. Posted January 23, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    This is another reason to make all effort control weight and, of course, to maintain a good regimen of exercise.

  16. Posted February 2, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    One of the challenges I see are actually reaching out and letting the public know about your initiatives. I came to know this by visiting your blog.

  17. Posted February 18, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    It’s good to know that there a lot of good research going into the neurobiology. With this, we can improve the function of our brain greatly. Thanks

  18. Height Charts
    Posted February 19, 2010 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    Around one in four men and one in three women in the UK are overweight, according to government statistics. The Department of Health predicts that if this trend continues, by the end of 2010 around 6.6 million men will be obese compared to 6 million women. Scary statistics.

  19. Posted February 19, 2010 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    I was actualy not aware about the relation with weight and brain. Thanks for this information.

  20. Posted February 19, 2010 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Other than neurodegenerative diseases that cause big holes in the brain tissue, I wasn’t aware that the brain could just lose mass, especially from something so seemingly unrelated as weight gain.

  21. Posted February 19, 2010 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Another Great blog post, Alison.Certainly a wake-up call concerning watching our weight.

  22. Posted February 19, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Obesity is such a big problem these days. Keep excersising and have a good healthy diet. These are the rules to follow if you want to be in shape and good health

  23. Posted February 19, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    A concerning but very well written article. They should run the same study on a younger generation to confirm the results. Perhaps even selecting candidates from a different country.

  24. Posted February 19, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Now a days we have a lot of information avaiable to stay in a good shape, and we know too the importance to make a weight loss program if we are overweight and thi post just let us know that our brain could be damaged too.

  25. Posted February 19, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    wow… What an excellent read I am very interested in the human brain and this was a very nice read.

  26. Rheumatoid Arthritis Explained
    Posted February 19, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    The article states that obesity is a sensitive issue for everyone, but we have to remember those people suffering rheumatoid arthitis where overweight can cause much more pain.

  27. Posted February 20, 2010 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    Seriously, everyone needs to start being more healthy in the USA. If we keep this up everyone is going to be huge by the year 2020. We must fix this problem immediately!

  28. Posted February 21, 2010 at 4:07 am | Permalink

    This is an interesting research about how our brain affects our weight. This is another reason to make all effort control weight and, of course, to maintain a good regimen of exercise.

  29. Posted February 21, 2010 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Even if you are thin you can tune your brain by moving. I am thin and sitting all day in front of a computer…and feeling bad. When I move for 15 minutes outside (just a simple walk) I feel like Hulk and could work for hours. Unfortunately I am lazy and dont imagine that I need to move…

  30. Posted February 21, 2010 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    The obesity already is a problem here in Brazil.

  31. naturalhealer
    Posted February 21, 2010 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

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    More good reasons to get the weight under control. Found some resources that could help people also. Natural medication is always the route I go.

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  32. Posted February 21, 2010 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    This is very interesting, great article. It makes me feel better knowing i’m a man though. The thought of possibly less brain power is enough for me.

  33. Posted February 21, 2010 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    Hi thanks for the great info shared here. I have made it my business not to get obese however this gives me something to point out to my friends who may suffer. Thanks

  34. Posted February 22, 2010 at 5:11 am | Permalink

    Underweight is my current issue as opposed to obesity

  35. Posted February 23, 2010 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    Evidently, fat clouds the brain!

  36. Posted February 23, 2010 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    It does seems that fat anywhere in the body is not good for efficient functioning of both the body and mind.

  37. Montažne hiše
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 1:21 am | Permalink

    This is very interesting research.
    This is another reason to make all effort control weight and, of course, to maintain a good regimen of exercise

  38. Anonymous
    Posted March 21, 2010 at 2:18 am | Permalink

    Other than neurodegenerative diseases that cause big holes in the brain tissue, I wasn’t aware that the brain could just lose mass, especially from something so seemingly unrelated as weight gain.

  39. Jenny Stewart
    Posted March 21, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    The numbers here very scary. We all should try to keep our weight under control. I found an interesting site with free recipes about somtum–a thai green papaya salad http://www.somtum.info. Its a favorite dish among thai people. I’d like to have the figure some of those women have.

  40. Sveikinimai
    Posted April 11, 2010 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    This is very interesting research. As being overweight or obese can cause so many other health problems too, it really reinforces the need, particularly for women, to maintain a healthy weight.

  41. TheMusic.LT
    Posted April 12, 2010 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    This is another reason to make all effort control weight and, of course, to maintain a good regimen of exercise.

  42. Gratis Blog
    Posted April 15, 2010 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    With Obesity being such a major problem in the U.S today , I would like to think that the govt would make Healthy Veg meals more cheaper and possibly raise the taxes on the fatty starchy foods.

  43. cleansing diets
    Posted May 12, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    I think this information impacted me more than any other reason for weight loss and I hope it has a strong effect on others. I feel it is really important to share this with others and I plan to put this on other blogs and forums.

  44. Posted October 19, 2010 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    this is a very informative article… it was a surprise to know that being obese or overweight can affect our brains?! well this is another reason that we need to take extra care of our body and health not only for the sake of being sexy but we also need to take care of our brain….

  45. Posted November 9, 2010 at 12:40 am | Permalink

    Obesity is a major problem in the US today because of the fast foods that are readily available in everyone’s reach. If only people can resist the tempatation and start making their own foods at home, we’ll have a significant increase in wellness in our health and lives.

  46. Maggie Jones
    Posted November 9, 2010 at 12:45 am | Permalink

    I’m a mom to two children one of which is afflicted with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and have been using home made natural remedies to manage it. I’ve read quite a bit regarding drug usage such as Adderrall or Ritalin but was reluctant to put such a young child through drug use. Also, quite a few of the users of those drugs had mentioned that they were addicted to the drugs over long periods of usage. I’d just like to mention that although it is a behavioral disorder, it is at least possible to manage the symptoms and it works.

  47. Samantha Augustine
    Posted November 9, 2010 at 2:05 am | Permalink

    Not to mention, obesity is linked to a wide variety conditions such as gout, high blood pressure and a higher risk of heart attack. I suppose a lifestyle change is in order for most Americans but with the fast food lifestyle in order, this will be hard.

  48. Mike
    Posted November 9, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    The real issue here is there’s a lot more talk than action about obesity and losing weight! My take is it’s just not a priority for many people, and most of us don’t become overweight overnight! It’s taken us years to get this way…so why bother changing now?

  49. http://www.BarleyDistributor.com
    Posted November 23, 2010 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    It makes sense that healthy foods feed the brain whereas unhealthy foods deplete it. Look at how sluggish people feel after eating a meal from a fast food restaurant; if it’s not good for the entire body then that would include the brain.

  50. Jim Macy
    Posted December 20, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    This is an interesting article that addresses some of the unseen issues with obesity.
    I ave found that there are many sub-conscious habits, beliefs and behaviors that impact the eating pattern in children and adults. It isn’t as simple as dieting. If underlying belief changes aren’t made, then the battle is lost.
    Glad to see some research on the brain and it’s activity when it comes to obesity.

  51. Jim Macy
    Posted December 21, 2010 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    There are some good posts here regarding weight loss. I have clients that eat for a variety of reasons and they eat a variety of foods. Consider that the average American will consume a gallon of sodas each week. That’s about 140 pounds of sugar.
    Not so much wrong with McDonald’s egg McMuffin as there is with the sugar consumption. Try water instead.

  52. Royal Takeaway Clayton
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    I have been reading your articles during my lunch break, and I have to admit the whole article has been very valuable and very well written.I also found a lot of stuff in your pages especially it’s discussion.I think I will come back soon.

  53. Nelson
    Posted February 10, 2011 at 12:44 am | Permalink

    Obesity is a major health problem in all of the developed countries and should be addressed as a matter of urgency. The health of our future generations will be affected in many areas if we do not act now. Unfortunately most people do not try to address the issue, as it just seems to hard to do and with so much fast food readily available the temptations are everywhere. Your article just shows more evidence about the dangers of being overweight.

  54. paul mckenna
    Posted February 10, 2011 at 4:45 am | Permalink

    Besides providing you with suggestions that promote better eating and exercise, a qualified weight loss hypnosis therapist will also involve you to set up a plan for yourself. Goal setting techniques will be taught so you will know exactly what to aim for, how to go about achieving your goals and how to review your progress.

  55. Crystal
    Posted February 16, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    I know that being over weight sometimes affect your self esteem, and has many other effects on your body and length of life; but I had no idea that it affected your brain. I know it is major in America and they say about 67% of Americans are overweight. Wonder why people think fat people are funny. This does not appear to be a laughing matter.

  56. healthy
    Posted February 26, 2011 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    It’s taken us years to get this way…so why bother changing now?
    The real issue here is there’s a lot more talk than action about obesity and losing weight! My take is it’s just not a priority for many people, and most of us don’t become overweight overnight!

  57. Ageless Living
    Posted March 17, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    The issue is we are caught up in this Now Society, that wants everything quick. Our quickly paced society has developed our fast fix mentality. Quickly food and modern conveniences contribute not merely to these unhealthy cravings, they develop the problems. Lack of physical exercise, eating high calorie, low nutrient, processed foods are the significant players in producing this over-fat population.

    We want to understand you can find no magic bullets and quick fixes. They may possibly create temporary results at greatest. Are we asking the wrong question? Maybe the questions ought to be how can we get beyond trying to lose weight? Rather than trying to lose weight we should be focusing on finding fit and healthy. If you do this consistently, your body will start to look and feel its greatest.

    We need to recognize that no matter what program or item or diet that we may possibly undertake, we won’t be effective until we alter the way we think.

  58. cheap melbourne hostel
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 4:20 am | Permalink

    So you might use 150 pounds as the target number that you suggest to your subconscious mind as you fall asleep. That is more believable at this point in time and will be more readily accepted by the mind. When you do reach your goal of 150 pounds, you can then change your input to 120 pounds. You may also do this if you have to lose a lesser amount of weight.

  59. how to hypnotise
    Posted April 19, 2011 at 2:58 am | Permalink

    I have to say that the psychological strain of self hate of obesity would explain the deterioration of these peoples brains. I have people asking me how to hypnotise themselves to stop obesity and the key is to break that subconscious trigger of eating=comfort because this becomes eating=self-hate. I like to use positive connections with healthy eating=comfort that breaks the psychological battle with in themselves.

    Anyway that is my 2 cents, loved the article.

  60. Conversational Hypnotism
    Posted May 9, 2011 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    Thought provoking article. Obesity is such a big problem these days and while we can see most of the results of obesity, obviously what we can’t see is also doing us damage. Thank you for this very informative post.

  61. Posted May 20, 2011 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    I would say that anyone suffering from obesity should be very concerned with the findings of this research! Just one more reason to address weight problems as soon as possible. I wonder if there could also be a link with Alzheimers due to less brain matter? Interesting thought?
    EDITOR’S COMMENT: There is some research on obesity and alzheimer’s that is suggesting a connection.

  62. Hypnotherapy Stop Smoking
    Posted May 31, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    It’s no secret that obesity has multiple negative effects on people. Brain age isn’t one that’s commonly advertised, but maybe it should be! I wonder how closely related this is to exercise promoting good brain health.

  63. sunseeker
    Posted June 23, 2011 at 2:58 am | Permalink

    Great post, what you said is really helpful to me. I agree with you anymore. I have been talking with my friend about, he though it is really interesting as well. Keep up with your good work, I would come back to you

  64. free love tarot reading
    Posted July 27, 2011 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Informative! Also here in Europe this is a growing problem. To do something about it there should be taken measures on a government level to help these people.

  65. Gout Relief
    Posted July 31, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    I agree that age plays a significant role in gout but preventing gout from manifesting itself is the best way to deal with the condition if you’re affected – this mostly boils down to controlling your uric acid (which is the primary cause for pain and discomfort in the condition). The best way to get gout relief to reduce the amount of meat and seafood you eat and increase your intake of Vitamin C and water.

  66. Xenon Project
    Posted August 23, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the article! I agree, America really needs to starts paying attention to their weight problems. I believe it all starts with the youth. If we make the youth enjoy being healthy, in a few generations, the weight problems will decrease significantly, maybe even disappear. However, it is up to the parents of today to help their kids be more healthy, while doing so themselves.

  67. Bob
    Posted September 5, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if women are affected more by obesity because they are more concerned about their appearance. Your estimate of your quality of life may be strongly influence by your perception of your physical appearance.

  68. Project Payday Review
    Posted September 29, 2011 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    This is very interesting research. As being overweight or obese can cause so many other health problems too, it really reinforces the need, particularly for women, to maintain a healthy weight.

  69. Barry the Composite Door man
    Posted September 30, 2011 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    Everybody should be health conscious. We must observe proper diet and exercise to avoid obesity. As what this blog says, overweight can lead to less brain matter. This is a very informative blog. Thank you for sharing this blog.

  70. Melbourne Florist
    Posted October 24, 2011 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    Even if you are thin you can tune your brain by moving. I am thin and sitting all day in front of a computer…and feeling bad. When I move for 15 minutes outside (just a simple walk) I feel like Hulk and could work for hours. Unfortunately I am lazy and dont imagine that I need to move…

  71. Jones Act Lawyer
    Posted October 28, 2011 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    I sit in front of my computer all day and it really wears me out, if I get up and go do physical activity for 15-20 minutes I always feel immensely better!

  72. Brisbane Hypnotherapy
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    Hmmm… it is very interesting to note that being obese could also be equated to a lower gray matter mass compared to your leaner counterparts. But, the real question there is, does it affect IQ? Does by having a bigger gray matter mean that you are more intellectual than those with lesser gray matter mass?

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  74. Yildiiz
    Posted August 12, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Will power is the most potent weapon in your armourery. If you want to achieve something then you need to be able to manifest it and feel it. What it will feel like once you have achieved your ambition or your goal.

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