Body mass index and its relation to neuropsychological functioning and brain volume in healthy older adults

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Obesity is a growing concern worldwide because of its adverse health effects, including its negative impact on cognitive functioning. This concern is especially relevant for older adults, who are already likely to experience some cognitive decline and loss of brain volume due to aging, (Gea et al., 2002). However, there is some evidence that higher body mass index (BMI) may actually be protective in later life (Hughes et al., 2009; Luchsinger et al., 2007; Nilsson and Nilsson, 2009; Sturman et al., 2008). Therefore, the purpose of the current study was to assess the relationship between BMI and neuropsychological functioning in older adults, and concurrently the relationship between BMI and brain volume. Older adults (N = 88) reported height and weight to determine BMI (M = 26.5) based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. Cognitive function was assessed with the Repeatable Battery for Assessment of Neuropsychological Status (RBANS). Brain volume measurements were evaluated via structural MRI. Results indicated no association between BMI and neuropsychological functioning. There was a significant association between BMI and total grey matter volume while controlling for age and years of education (β = 0.208, p = .026, ΔR2 = 0.043), indicating that as BMI increased, brain volume in these areas modestly increased. However, these results did not survive multiple comparison corrections and were further attenuated to near significance when sex was explicitly added as an additional covariate. Nevertheless, while replication is clearly needed, these results suggest that moderately greater BMI in later life may modestly attenuate concomitant grey matter volume decline.

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