Obesity in women increases their chances of developing dementia in their 50s, researchers have said.

A team from the University College London (UCL) has been investigating what impact being overweight has on the brain.

In general they found obesity increases the risk of dementia by 31% and in women with high levels of tummy fat, the chances were even higher at 39%.

Senior author Dr Dorina Cadar, Senior Research Fellow from UCL’s Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, said: “These findings provide new evidence that obesity may have important implications in terms of dementia risk.”

Dr Cadar said that monitoring people’s Body Mass Index (BMI) and waist circumference could be useful to avoid any potential health changes.

She added: “Hence, reducing weight to optimal levels is recommended by adopting healthy and balanced patterns of eating, such as the Mediterranean diet, appropriate physical exercise and reduced alcohol consumption throughout the course of the entire adult life span.”

The study involved collecting health data from more than 6,500 people who were representative of the English population.

Co-author Professor Andrew Steptoe, also from UCL’s Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care and Director of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, said: “Dementia is one of the major health challenges of the 21st century that could threaten successful ageing of the population. Our findings suggest that rising obesity rates will compound the issue.

“By identifying factors that may raise dementia risk that are influenced by lifestyle factors, we hope that a substantial portion, but admittedly not all, of dementia cases can be prevented through public health interventions.”

The findings have been published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

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