Published on 03 May 2023

Excess visceral fat linked to poorer cognitive performance: Study

From left: Dr Theresia Mina, NTU LKCMedicine Dean’s Postdoctoral Fellow; Dr Jimmy Lee, Senior Consultant, Institute of Mental Health, HELIOS Co-Principal Investigator and NTU LKCMedicine Associate Professor; Dr Lee Eng Sing, Senior Consultant, National Healthcare Group, Singapore, NTU LKCMedicine Assistant Professor and HELIOS Co-Principal Investigator; Prof John Chambers, Director, Population/Global Health research programme at NTU LKCMedicine and HELIOS Lead Investigator.

Scientists from the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine (LKCMedicine) at NTU Singapore have found that Asians with an excess amount of visceral fat tend to have a poorer ability to think, learn, and remember.This finding is based on an analysis of the health data of close to 9,000 multi-ethnic Singaporeans and permanent residents collected for the Health for Life in Singapore (HELIOS) study between 2018 and 2021.

The scientists found that an increase in the type of fat wrapped around the internal organs – known as visceral fat – is associated with poorer performance in cognitive tests of memory, executive function, processing speed, and attention.

When the scientists conducted a deeper dive into the relationship between body fat and cognition, using statistical analysis of genetic data from global databases, they found that a higher body mass index (BMI) and BMI-adjusted waist-to-hip ratio were also linked to a fall in cognitive performance.

These findings, published in the April edition of the medical journal The Lancet Regional Health – Western Pacific, highlight the impact that preventing obesity could have on maintaining cognitive function, said the scientists.

In addition, with dementia expected to afflict 78 million people in 2030, and 139 million people by 2050, understanding and addressing the determinants of cognitive function is a major public health priority, the scientists said.

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