Health Center - Obesity

About one-third of American women 20 years of age and older are considered obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity is caused by multiple factors, both environmental and inherited. Learn more about this complex disorder, including risk factors and key strategies for weight loss.
Obesity Guide

Can Obesity Affect Brain Health?

picture of a brainIt's well-known that carrying too much weight puts stress on the heart, joints and organs, but now we're learning that obesity may even be a detriment to cognitive abilities, as suggested by a number of studies. 

High-fat diet may cause changes in the brain

One study conducted at the University of Washington and published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation revealed that obesity may induce physical changes in the brain that make it difficult to control eating habits. In fact, the researchers theorize that these effects may begin long before obesity sets in, as changes in mice's brains were observed immediately after eating a high-fat meal.

"That was quite a shock," said Michael Schwartz, a professor and director of the Diabetes and Obesity Center of Excellence at the University of Washington, in an interview with National Public Radio. "This might reflect fundamental biological changes in how the brain works that help explain why it's so hard to keep weight off."

The study shows said that a high-fat meal affected the rodents' hypothalamus, a part of the brain that helps regulate hunger, inflicting inflammation in the brain region. While it's true that human brains may react differently than the mice's did, the researchers noted that observations of 34 brain scans in people revealed similar results.

UCLA finds lower brain mass in obese individuals

Earlier, a team of researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) discovered that obese, elderly individuals had 8 percent lower brain mass than did older folks of normal weight. Additionally, people who were simply overweight had 4 percent less brain volume than their slimmer counterparts.