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Obesity and dementia

Rise in obesity rates will increase dementia

Research distinguished between the effect of an ageing population and the rising incidence of obesity

The continuing rise in obesity rates will lead to an increase in dementia rates, according to a study presented the European Congress on Obesity, in Liverpool, UK.

"We've known for a long time about the risks to cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, so this is a new concern,” said Tim Marsh of UK Health Forum. "Obesity is a major concern that's going to have a major economic impact on the country and this further compounds that. The trouble is there's a 25-year lag in this. Obesity started increasing in the 80s."

Their research looked at the effect on dementia if the present rising trend in prevalence of obesity continues, at the effect of a smaller rise in obesity prevalence (a modelled 5% reduction) and the effect if obesity levels remained constant at present levels. This this allowed the researchers to distinguish between the effect of an ageing population and the rising incidence of obesity.

The results revealed that said rates of dementia would increase from 4,894 cases (in every 100,000 people over 65) to 6,662 cases (in every 100,000 people over 65). The investigators predict that if obesity levels were to stay the same, it would save the NHS an estimated £940m.

However, the researchers caution that, since dementia typically takes two to three decades to evolve the impact of any BMI intervention upon dementia will take 25 years to show effect. Reducing BMI will have an impact on other diseases such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes sooner than the impact on dementia. The annual total cost of dementia (health, social, informal care and lost productivity) is currently estimated at £23bn per year by the Alzheimer’s Research Trust. The researchers project that based on current trends this will increase to £41bn per year by 2050.

 “These are preliminary findings and we need to develop the modelling methods further to get a fuller picture,” said the researchers. “This study adds to the existing body of evidence which shows the importance of policies and interventions to prevent obesity and its related diseases in the population, including dementia.”

"It's easy to see the immediate impact of piling on the pounds, but we can't afford to ignore the long-term effects,” said Jessica Smith, a research officer at Alzheimer's Society. "Evidence shows that obesity increases the risk of developing dementia. This study highlights the impact obesity will have on the numbers of people with the condition in the future.”

In England 24% of men and 26% of women are obese.

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