Having a beer belly linked to having a smaller brain

Exercising your mind with activities other than traditional

To find that out, researchers would have to follow the same people over time and record changes in body weight and brain volume.

The new findings, published January 9 in the journal Neurology, suggest that the combination of obesity (as measured by body mass index, or BMI) and a high waist-to-hip ratio may be a risk factor for brain shrinkage, the researchers said.

The findings, published in the journal Neurology, showed that after adjusting for other factors that may affect brain volume, such as age, physical activity, smoking and high blood pressure, participants with a high BMI had a slightly lower grey matter volume than those with a healthy BMI.

Some previous studies have also found a link between visceral fat or a high waist-to-hip ratio and lower brain volume, but these studies tended to be small and did not look at the combined effect of BMI and waist-to-hip ratio.

The study found that people with both a high BMI and high waist-to-hip ratio had the lowest brain volumes, compared with people who had just a high BMI (but not a high waist-to-hip ratio) and people of a healthy weight.

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Carried out by researchers at Loughborough University, the new study looked at 9,652 adults with an average age of 55, and used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure brain volumes for white and grey brain matter. According to their findings, people with more excess fat around the middle appear to have a shrunken brain and less gray matter.

They found nearly 1,300 study participants were obese and apple-shaped, and that they had less grey matter, which is important for thinking skills. All of these brain regions are involved in motivation and reward.

Looking at both BMI as well as waist-to-hip ratio clarifies what role different types of body fat may play in affecting the brain, Hamer says. In the study, scientists compared body mass index (BMI) measurements as well as waist-to-hip ratio recordings taken between 2006 and 2010. It is possible that individuals with lower volumes of gray matter in some brain areas have increased the risk of obesity.

Study author Prof Mark Hamer said: 'While our study found obesity, especially around the middle, was associated with lower grey matter brain volumes, it's unclear if abnormalities in brain structure lead to obesity or if obesity leads to changes in the brain'.

Future research should explore inflammation, nutrition and vascular health to better understand potential links between brain health and obesity, she said.

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