New study links belly fat to decreased brain function

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Hips don’t lie, people.

Well — waist-to-hips ratio doesn’t lie, to be specific. If your beer belly is getting as big as your hips, it’s a big health risk, mental and physical.

As if being overweight weren’t already enough of a social drag.

Anyone who’s been there knows all about the body shaming, shopping and dressing nightmares, lost employment opportunities and all the other fun stuff that comes with being larger-than-acceptable; men have a sliver of an advantage over women in all this, as guys are more or less expected to be ‘big’. Women are expected to be small. And silent, but that’s another harangue.

As psychotherapist Susie Orbach tells The Guardian, “Young girls are taught at an early age that their bodies are for display and not for anything else.” So, yes: being a fat girl is a particularly rough ride.

(The same article cites University of Pennsylvania researchers on some of the stereotypes around obesity — among them lazy, incompetent, unattractive, lacking willpower and to blame for their excess weight.)

It is true that extra pounds will put you at risk for a host of cancers, heart disease and diabetes, and according to a new study published in Neurology, that bleak picture is about to get worse.

A new study links belly fat to decreased brain function.

(Yes, where you store fat turns out to be just as important as how much, and belly fat is a killer.)

As reported in Time Magazine, the New York Post and elsewhere, researchers have found there may be a link between extra body fat around the waist and brain shrinkage. Obesity in this study was calculated by measuring body mass index  — BMI—  and waist-to-hip ratio. People with higher ratios on both had lowest brain volume.

“The take-home message is that being overweight and obese has a multitude of effects on health, so it’s unsurprising that obesity is also going to have an effect on our brain health.” So says Mark Hamer, professor of exercise medicine at Loughborough University in England and lead author of the study, as quoted in Time.

Even after researchers had adjusted for some of the other things that might shrink grey matter in the brain — age, physical activity, education level, smoking, etc. — they found that people with a higher BMI and a higher waist-to-hip ratio measurement had less grey matter volume.

That’s a problem, because brain shrinkage goes in the same sentence as dementia and memory loss.

However, Mark Hamer has said while belly fat and reduced grey matter might be linked, it’s not clear if obesity has led to these changes in the brain — or if something in the brain structure has led to obesity.

Chicken or egg, etc.

Hamer told EurekAlert! it may one day be possible to check brain health by measuring one’s waist-to-hip ratio and BMI. Happy idea. Or not.

Brain health? Consider it new incentive, as January unleashes the usual frantic improving attempts from all of us to eat better, exercise more, lose weight and blah, blah, blah.