Behavior, Psychology and Sociology

Perceived weight discrimination and risk of incident dementia

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Body mass index (BMI) and obesity have a complex relation with risk of dementia that evolves over the lifespan. Research in other domains indicates that the social experience of body weight, not just BMI, is associated with worse health outcomes. The present research uses data from the Health and Retirement Study (N = 12,053) to test whether weight discrimination is associated with increased risk of dementia over an up to 10-year follow-up independent of BMI and other relevant clinical and behavioral risk factors. Participants who reported weight discrimination had a 40% increased risk of incident dementia (Hazard Ratio = 1.40; 95% Confidence Interval = 1.12–1.74), controlling for age, sex, race, ethnicity, and education. The association between weight discrimination and incident dementia held controlling for BMI, diabetes, hypertension, depressive symptoms, smoking, physical activity, and genetic risk status. The present research indicates that the stigma associated with weight is associated with dementia risk independent from obesity. This research highlights that the detrimental effect of obesity on cognitive health in older adulthood may occur through the adverse social experience of body weight in addition to the biological consequences of excess weight.

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    The association remained significant if waist circumference was used instead of BMI (HR = 1.44, 95% CI = 1.12–1.84; n = 11,047 due to missing data on waist circumference).


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Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute On Aging of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R01AG053297 and R03AG051960. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. The Health and Retirement Study is conducted by the University of Michigan with funding from the National Institute on Aging (U01AG009740).

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Correspondence to Angelina R. Sutin.

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Sutin, A.R., Stephan, Y., Robinson, E. et al. Perceived weight discrimination and risk of incident dementia. Int J Obes 43, 1130–1134 (2019) doi:10.1038/s41366-018-0211-1

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