Midlife obesity is a cause of dementia

To help determine whether midlife obesity is a cause of dementia and whether low body mass index (BMI), low caloric intake, and physical inactivity are causes or merely consequences of the gradual onset of dementia by recording these factors early in a large 20-year prospective study and relating them to dementia detection rates separately during follow-up periods of <5, 5 to 9, 10 to 14, and 15+ years.

A total of 1,136,846 UK women, mean age 56 (SD 5) years, were recruited in 1996 to 2001 and asked about height, weight, caloric intake, and inactivity. They were followed up until 2017 by electronic linkage to National Health Service records, detecting hospital admissions with mention of dementia.

Dementia detection during years 15+ was associated with baseline obesity (BMI 30+ vs 20-24 kg/m2: RR 1.21, 95% confidence interval 1.16-1.26, p < 0.0001) but not clearly with low BMI, low caloric intake, or inactivity at baseline. The latter 3 factors were associated with increased dementia rates during the first decade, but these associations weakened substantially over time, approaching null after 15 years.

In conclusion midlife obesity may well be a cause of dementia.