Fat People Lose Their Thinking Skills Faster Than Thin People

Lifted from Business Insider, who lifts stuff all the time:

Fatter people are more likely to lose their memories and brain power quicker than those who are thinner, according to British research.

Those who are obese, and have other health problems such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, lose their memory and thinking skills almost a quarter faster, found researchers at University College London.

Their study was based on almost 6,500 Whitehall civil servants, whose health was monitored between the ages of 50 and 60.
They were weighed and measured, their blood pressure and cholesterol levels were taken, and they were also asked what medication they were taking.

In addition, they were asked to perform mental tests three times during the decade, which were used to assess memory and other cognitive skills.

Of the 6,401 civil servants in the study, nine per cent (582) were obese. Of those, 350 were also classed as “metabolically abnormal” – meaning they had two additional risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, were taking medication for either condition, or were diabetic.

The researchers found the obese tended to lose their mental powers faster than their thinner colleagues, while those who also had additional conditions lost their memory and thinking skills fastest of all.

The latter group experienced a 22.5 percent faster decline on their cognitive test scores over the decade than those who were healthy.

Archana Singh-Manoux, of the Paris research institute Inserm, who contributed to the study, said their results indicated the idea that people could be obese but still healthy was flawed.

Shirley Cramer, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “We do not yet know why obesity and metabolic abnormality are linked to poorer brain performance, but with obesity levels on the rise, it will be important to delve a little deeper into this association.

“While the study itself focuses on cognitive decline, previous research suggests that a healthy diet, regular exercise, not smoking and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol in midlife can also help stave off dementia.

“With dementia figures spiralling towards a million, the findings suggest we should be conscious of our general health throughout life.”

Of course, it could have something to do with being a fat British civil servant – these’s types of observational studies are fraught with danger when you start extrapolating their conclusions to people outside the study.

Still interesting, though it doesn’t explain all the thin stupid people – fat people have *certainly* not cornered the market on stupidity, as can be evidenced by reading the news.

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9 thoughts on “Fat People Lose Their Thinking Skills Faster Than Thin People

  1. That is a BIG call to say that this proves you cannot be fat and healthy, which I actually believe. They already showed that those with ‘conditions’ showed a greater decrease in cognitive ability, which actually suggests the opposite that it is the other factors associated with obesity, not obesity itself, which are causing these declines. Just because they couldn’t find conditions in the rest of the obese doesn’t mean they don’t have them. Did thin people with conditions also show a decrease in cognitive function? And most importantly, but probably impossible to study, did the rare fat person that exercises and eats healthy show any decreases? Until you answer these questions I think it is far too bold of a statement to say that being healthy and obese is flawed.

    • Zooming out a bit, they are asking a question that simply can’t be answered given that we can’t run long-term experiments on large groups of humans in controlled experiments.

      I am reading about the ‘starvation experiments’ that Ancel Keys did during WWII and such controlled experiments – which turned healthy men into walking skeletons for the sake of science – would not be allowed today.

      So science does what seems to be the next best thing – these long-term observational studies. Much inferior, but it’s all we’ve got.

      These folks then report their findings with the usual cautions, and dopey journalists distill stupid headlines and draw conclusions no respectable scientist would.

      I don’t quite see the point of much research like this – except to keep researchers gainfully employed. They must have known at the outset that any conclusions they might draw would not be conclusive – what purpose does it serve? (says the non-scientist to the scientist)

      • I am a behavioural ecologist and so not really in the know on nutrition research. But here is my perspective on research like this. I think it has it’s place. Similar types of research are done in ecology. This type of research is very good at identifying patterns. The difference is most ecologists (the good ones anyway) wouldn’t try to definitively guess why that pattern exists because that is not what they investigated. It opens the door for further experimental lab based studies to ask the question why.

        For example, in my latest funded research I showed that exotic (invasive/alien) fish tend to invade turbid water (degraded habitats) worldwide. Do I know why….NO!. And if I tried to publish this data trying to prove why they invaded turbid waters I think I would find the manuscript back on my desk form the journal office pretty damn fast with a big fat rejection. I had to do lab based studies to show that most exotic fish use non-visual senses to feed, thus giving them a significant advantage in turbid water where vision is limited and native visually oriented fish have a hard time. NOW I have a reason why. Having said that there are a number of other reasons as to why they invade turbid water, which are not mutually exclusive (degraded habitat tends to be near cities, and so more exotic fish will be released there just because there are more humans and pet stores, the oxygen content in turbid water is lot lower and so fish need to have a physiological tolerance to this, etc etc).

        It seems to me the problem with nutritional research is that they can’t seem to make this distinction, and it is ok to quantify trends and patterns, in fact we need too, but without over interpretation.

        • In other words, looking at their abstract, the conclusion should have been that obese people have lower mental prowess, and this is significantly increased with increasing conditions. Now this obviously draws one hypothesis that obesity causes reductions in mental ability OR that health conditions reduce mental ability and these are more prevalent in obese subjects hence the pattern. But to ask the question does OBESITY (in other words does a lot of fat in your tissue) cause problems with mental focus you would need to do some neurobiological work on nerve cells and fat tissue. I don’t know what you would do but that is the point of the study…for other researchers to go out and find out why this pattern exists and find out the how. Hope I made my point.

        • You’ve made your point, DB, and it’s a valid one. These studies are directional as they should point to further research. Also, it should be replicatable like any good experiment. The point you make that you don’t know what the next experiment might be from the data, to me, shows the problem with this sort of research. Neither do I. An experiment in a test tube will be questioned because we’re not test tubes. It won’t work in rats because we’re not rats. It’s also hard to measure ‘cognitive decline’. The test they used are a substitute for for an actual measure of cognitive decline, and could indicate other things – like a shorter attention span, or greater irritability toward researchers calling them fat. Also, the decade that this occurred in saw the rise of the Internet, and there is much evidence to show the Internet is ruining our ability to concentrate – see Nicolas Carr’s ‘The Shallows’ (http://amzn.com/0393072223). Perhaps the correlation has more to do with a sedentary lifestyle surfing the web.

          The real research is that we take those Brits and put them in the equivalent of your fish tank – Ward studies in hospitals and prisons. But if we use these folks, they come with baggage that might confound the results – so let’s lock up the *actual* civil servants for a decade. But wait – that would not only be prohibitively expensive, but not permitted by the science ethicists.

          We can replicate the experiment and confirm the results – but that would take another decade. And if the researchers take a different approach, then there will be arguments to whose was better. Of course, another decade might bring other externalities like the Internet to further confound things, and whether or not similar experiments agree in the future keep researchers busy and provide data for meta studies.

          All great fun – and it keeps a number of researchers off the streets – but does it help us? I dunno.

          I think what you and I and thousands upon thousands of other folks are doing *might* be helpful: self-experimentation. The experiment of one. A researcher can’t make me do what I do voluntarily, but I do it nonetheless. Perhaps this sort of problem needs a decentralized method of scientific inquiry – one that is going on right now organically by individuals like you and me who take these observational studies, add our own hypotheses and biases, and empirically test things out. Maybe our failures and successes are the basis for a future means of studying the obesity problem across large populations of distributed individuals.

          Or maybe I’m a looney.

  2. One of the major factors that contributes to appetite disregulation (1) also contributes to cognitive decline. That would be excessive omega-6 intake(2). One can be fat and healthy only if omega-6 intake is low(3). Same holds for skinny people.

    References
    1. http://sciencenordic.com/vegetable-oils-promote-obesity
    2. http://omega-6-omega-3-balance.omegaoptimize.com/2008/12/22/polyunsaturated-fats-dull-cognitive-performance-with-age.aspx
    3. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201103/your-brain-omega-3

    • Hi Dave. Thanks for the links. I found #3 particularly interesting. I am *very* interested as of late into the psychological aspects of diet, and the writer has a number of interesting articles from this perspective.

  3. Again, good article and I appreciate the research. Have you considered jumping ship with your blog like jimmy Moore? Apparently, it is expensive, but worth it. Your writing is worth it, and you could go commercial.

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