Finally, there may be a benefit to gaining weight: You may be at less risk of developing dementia in old age. Overweight people have a significant advantage when it comes to a disease that affects more and more elderly people around the world.
The research, from a large British study, analyzed medical records for almost two million people with an average age of 55. The most obese had a 29% lesser chance of dementia 15 years later, compared to people of normal weight. By contrast, the underweight were most at risk. They had a 39% greater chance of dementia–a brain condition that causes people to lose memory and suffer impaired thinking.
Interestingly, the results weren’t affected significantly by the exact age of the people studied, nor by rates of smoking and alcohol use. Exactly why someone heavier should be less at risk isn’t at all clear. Even if somehow fat on the body reduces risk, that doesn’t explain fully why someone with less-than-optimal fat should be that much more at risk.
Of course, the study contradicts most of everything we’re told about disease risk in middle-to-late age. “Our results suggest that doctors, public health scientists, and policy makers need to re-think how to best identify who is at high risk of dementia,” says co-author Stuart Pocock, a professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
“We also need to pay attention to the causes and public health consequences of the link between underweight and increased dementia risk which our research has established.”
Suffice to say, piling on the pounds is probably a bad idea until we know more. But at least being overweight may not be all bad. It’s somewhat refreshing to hear that message for a change.