People over the aged from 60 to 70 years with high levels of visceral fat (fat tummies) have a greater risk of brain decline, compared to those of normal weight, researchers from South Korea reported in the journal Age and Ageing.

Visceral fat, also known as visceral adiposity, intra-abdominal fat, or belly fat refers to fat that accumulates around the internal organs, which in this case are the ones located in the abdomen, and include the liver, pancreas, intestines, etc. When there is too much visceral fat, clinicians may use the term “central obesity” – too much abdominal fat has built up, which increases waist size. Central obesity is linked to a significantly higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

In this study, Prof. Dae Hyun Yoon, Seoul National University Hospital Healthcare System Gangnam Center, Seoul, South Korea, and team gathered data on 250 participants aged between 60 and 70 years. Their BMI (body mass index), waist sizes and cognitive abilities were all measured/tested. CT scans were also done on their abdomens.

Italienischer Maler des 17. Jahrhunderts 001
A “stout” Italian gentleman painted in the 1600s. An example of excess visceral fat

They found that those with the highest BMIs and larger waists scored worst in the cognitive tests.

However, among some people over 70 who were tested in the same way, no association between cognitive decline and central obesity was found.

Yoon, said:

“Our findings have important public health implications. The prevention of obesity, particularly central obesity, might be important for the prevention of cognitive decline or dementia.”

In an Abstract in the same journal, the authors wrote:

“high adiposity, particularly visceral adiposity, was associated with poor cognitive functioning in younger elderly persons.”

Written by Christian Nordqvist