New Study Proves That Being Overweight is Damaging to the Brain

By Emily Murray

It comes as no surprise that being overweight can lead to health problems. Though some would like to shrug it off or pretend there is no danger, it’s nearly impossible.Typically each nightly news report or morning newspaper mentions tips for trimming down or highlights the benefits of keeping your body at a healthy weight. When most of us think of being overweight, we think of the most common things that can hurt our bodies – risk of heart disease, high cholesterol, cancer or diabetes, after all, these are the threats to our health we hear about most often.

What you may have never even considered though is what that extra weight is doing to your brain. In fact, if you didn’t consider this, you were far from alone. Until the development of a recent study, little was known about how weight could impact the brain.

It was suspected that some cognitive impairment resulted from obesity,  however the full extent was not yet discovered until this recent observation. Researchers gathered 150 obese volunteers for cognitive testing to compare to those in the healthy weight level and found that the majority of those classified as obese scored lower than their healthier peers, especially when it came to memory skills. In fact, in this area of the testing, nearly 1 in 4 of the overweight participants received such a low score that they fall into the learning disabled category.

While these results are terrifying, especially when you consider the fact that the CDC reports that 34% of all adults over 20 fall into the obese range and even another 34% who are classified as overweight. The good news comes in the next step of the study, however. Just because obesity affects mental function, it doesn’t mean that it’s permanent. Once the weight is lost, cognitive function appears to return as was seen when 109 of the original study members that chose to undergo a surgical weight loss procedure.

It only took 12 weeks for at least 50 pounds to come off of the participants and as the weight melted away, memory function returned. As participants again took the test, researchers saw vast improvement. In the other group of those who opted not to have the surgery, some did about the same in the memory testing as they had previously and many of them actually did worse than their first test.

While the “how” part of the mystery was solved, other researchers called on an MRI to figure out the “why?” Upon further examination, these rests revealed that damage around the nerve channels of obese people could be the reason for memory difficulties. The bundles of nerves are surrounded by a protective coating which appears damaged and can therefore prevent signals from traveling smoothly in the brain, leading to difficulties in memory. When weight loss occurs, this damage appears to dwindle and improved cognitive abilities return.

For the alarmingly fast growing amount of obese children in this country, studies like this one will hopefully be a wakeup call for families to keep a closer watch on their children and do all they can to help ward off obesity to give their child the opportunity to learn and retain important information taught in school.