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Keywords:

  • obesity;
  • cognition;
  • dementia;
  • waist–hip ratio;
  • women

OBJECTIVES: To determine whether body mass index (BMI) is independently associated with cognitive function in postmenopausal women and the relationship between body fat distribution as estimated by waist-hip ratio (WHR).

DESIGN: Cross-sectional data analysis.

SETTING: Baseline data from the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) hormone trials.

PARTICIPANTS: Eight thousand seven hundred forty-five postmenopausal women aged 65 to 79 free of clinical evidence of dementia who completed the baseline evaluation in the WHI hormone trials.

MEASUREMENTS: Participants completed a Modified Mini-Mental State Examination (3MSE), health and lifestyle questionnaires, and standardized measurements of height, weight, body circumference, and blood pressure. Statistical analysis was performed of associations between 3MSE score, BMI, and WHR after controlling for known confounders.

RESULTS: With the exception of smoking and exercise, vascular disease risk factors, including hypertension, waist measurement, heart disease, and diabetes mellitus, were significantly associated with 3MSE score and were included as covariables in subsequent analyses. BMI was inversely related to 3MSE score; for every 1-unit increase in BMI, 3MSE score decreased 0.988 points (P<.001) after adjusting for age, education, and vascular disease risk factors. BMI had the most pronounced association with poorer cognitive functioning scores in women with smaller waist measurements. In women with the highest WHR, cognitive scores increased with BMI.

CONCLUSION: Higher BMI was associated with poorer cognitive function in women with smaller WHR. Higher WHR, estimating central fat mass, was associated with higher cognitive function in this cross-sectional study. Further research is needed to clarify the mechanism for this association.