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Obesity May Worsen Episodic Memory, Make It Harder To Keep Track Of Certain Events


Feb. 28, 2016 Medical Daily

High body mass index (BMI) has been associated with certain health risks, which may now include cognitive impairment, according to preliminary research published in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. The study, led by researchers from the University of Cambridge, found that young adults who are overweight may have poor episodic memory — a weakened ability to recall past events compared to their normal-weight peers.  

“We’re not saying that overweight people are necessarily more forgetful,” cautions lead study author Dr. Lucy Cheke in a statement, “but if these results are generalizable to memory in everyday life, then it could be that overweight people are less able to vividly relive details of past events — such as their past meals. Research on the role of memory in eating suggests that this might impair their ability to use memory to help regulate consumption.” About 69 percent of U.S. adults age 20 years and over are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancers. It is also a major risk factor for premature mortality.

For the study, researchers’ recruited 50 participants aged 10 to 35, with BMIs ranging from 18 to 31 — a normal BMI falls between 18.5 and 24.9. The participants completed a memory test known as the “Treasure-Hunt Task,” where they were asked to hide items around complex scenes, such as a desert with palm trees, across two days. They were then asked to remember which items they had hidden, where they had hidden them, and when they were hidden. Overall, the team found an association between higher BMI and poorer performance on the tasks.

“Although only a small study, its results support existing findings that excess bodyweight may be associated with changes to the structure and function of the brain and its ability to perform certain cognitive tasks optimally,” researchers wrote.

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