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"Skinny Fat" Body Type Linked to Dementia

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerSeptember 14, 2018

“Skinny fat,” also known as sarcopenic obesity, is a term for people who have a normal body mass index (BMI) but have a disproportionately high proportion of body fat. Mounting evidence suggests that being skinny fat could be just as damaging to your health as being obese or overweight.

Learn more about the impact that body fat has on dementia and about the dangers of being skinny fat.

“Skinny Fat” Body Type Is Linked to Dementia and Other Risks

A recent study from Florida Atlantic University’s Comprehensive Center for Brain Health found that sarcopenic obesity – also known as skinny fat – can lead to compromised brain function and even increase the risk of dementia. The study was published in Clinical Interventions in Aging.

To further understand the relationship between brain health and body fat, researchers used data from 353 participants to find a potential correlation between the two conditions. Testing for participants included animal naming, cognitive assessment, evaluation of BMI, body fat and muscle mass and functional tests of grip strength.

Researchers found that those participants with a high body fat and low muscle mass (i.e. skinny fat) displayed the lowest performance of cognition and overall health tests, followed by those who had only sarcopenia (low muscle tone) and then those who were obese.

While obesity and sarcopenia both had negative effects on memory, mental flexibility, orientation and self-control, it was when an individual had both conditions that the outcomes were more pronounced.

Ways to Protect Against Dementia and the Loss of Muscle Mass

Sarcopenia is the body’s natural loss of muscle mass that occurs with age. Previous studies have linked sarcopenia to cognitive and motor impairments, also finding relationships between sarcopenia and a limited ability to resolve conflict. Researchers believe that while low muscle mass is the primary reason for the cognitive decline, obesity can worsen these effects.

“Understanding the mechanisms through which this syndrome may affect cognition is important, as it may inform efforts to prevent cognitive decline in later life by targeting at-risk groups with an imbalance between lean and fat mass,” said lead study author Dr. James Galvin, associate dean for clinical research and professor of integrated medical sciences at Florida Atlantic University’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine.

“They may benefit from programs addressing loss of cognitive function by improving and maintaining strength and preventing obesity.”

While more studies need to be conducted to determine the exact relationship between low muscle mass and brain health, some researchers believe that testing for sarcopenia may help medical professionals estimate the future risk of dementia in a patient.

Were you aware that the skinny fat body type has been linked to dementia? Would you undergo a test for sarcopenia to estimate your future risk? We’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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