Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Behavior, Psychology and Sociology

Perceived weight discrimination and risk of incident dementia


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.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1.

    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).


  1. 1.

    Kivimäki M, Luukkonen R, Batty GD, Ferrie JE, Pentti J, Nyberg ST. et al. Body mass index and risk of dementia: analysis of individual-level data from 1.3 million individuals. Alzheimers Dement. 2018;14:601–9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Qizilbash N, Gregson J, Johnson ME, Pearce N, Douglas I, Wing K, et al. BMI and risk of dementia in two million people over two decades: a retrospective cohort study. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2015;3:431–6.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Wu YK, Berry DC. Impact of weight stigma on physiological and psychological health outcomes for overweight and obese adults: a systematic review. J Adv Nurs. 2018;74:1030–42.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Sutin AR, Stephan Y, Terracciano A. Weight discrimination and risk of mortality. Psychol Sci. 2015;26:1803–11.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Crimmins EM, Kim JK, Langa KM, Weir DR. Assessment of cognition using surveys and neuropsychological assessment: the health and retirement study and the aging, demographics, and memory study. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2011;66(Suppl 1):i162–171.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Kessler RC, Mickelson KD, Williams DR. The prevalence, distribution, and mental health correlates of perceived discrimination in the United States. J Health Soc Behav. 1999;40:208–30.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Langa KM, Larson EB, Crimmins EM, Faul JD, Levine DA, Kabeto MU, et al. A comparison of the prevalence of dementia in the United States in 2000 and 2012. JAMA Intern Med. 2017;177:51–8.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Dutton GR, Lewis TT, Durant N, Halanych J, Kiefe CI, Sidney S, et al. Perceived weight discrimination in the CARDIA study: differences by race, sex, and weight status. Obesity. 2014;22:530–6.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Cheng G, Huang C, Deng H, Wang H. Diabetes as a risk factor for dementia and mild cognitive impairment: a meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Intern Med J. 2012;42:484–91.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Tsenkova VK, Carr D, Schoeller DA, Ryff CD. Perceived weight discrimination amplifies the link between central adiposity and nondiabetic glycemic control (HbA1c). Ann Behav Med. 2011;41:243–51.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Robinson E, Sutin A, Daly M.Perceived weight discrimination mediates the prospective relation between obesity and depressive symptoms in U.S. and U.K. adults.Health Psychol. 2017;36:112–21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Norton S, Matthews FE, Barnes DE, Yaffe K, Brayne C. Potential for primary prevention of Alzheimer’s disease: an analysis of population-based data. Lancet Neurol. 2014;13:788–94.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Kuiper JS, Zuidersma M, Oude Voshaar RC, Zuidema SU, van den Heuvel ER, Stolk RP, et al. Social relationships and risk of dementia: a systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal cohort studies. Ageing Res Rev. 2015;22:39–57.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Sutin AR, Stephan Y, Carretta H, Terracciano A. Perceived discrimination and physical, cognitive, and emotional health in older adulthood. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2015;23:171–9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Himmelstein MS, Incollingo Belsky AC, Tomiyama AJ. The weight of stigma: cortisol reactivity to manipulated weight stigma. Obesity. 2015;23:368–74.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Lupien SJ, de Leon M, de Santi S, Convit A, Tarshish C, Nair NP, et al. Cortisol levels during human aging predict hippocampal atrophy and memory deficits. Nat Neurosci. 1998;1:69–73.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Barnes LL, Lewis TT, Begeny CT, Yu L, Bennett DA, Wilson RS. Perceived discrimination and cognition in older African Americans. J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 2012;18:856–65.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Shankar A, Hinds P. Perceived discrimination: associations with physical and cognitive function in older adults. Health Psychol. 2017;36:1126–34.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Terracciano A, Stephan Y, Luchetti M, Albanese E, Sutin AR. Personality traits and risk of cognitive impairment and dementia. J Psychiatr Res. 2017;89:22–27.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Terracciano A, Sutin AR, An Y, O’Brien RJ, Ferrucci L, Zonderman AB, et al. Personality and risk of Alzheimer’s disease: new data and meta-analysis. Alzheimers Dement. 2014;10:179–86.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


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).

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Angelina R. Sutin.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Sutin, A.R., Stephan, Y., Robinson, E. et al. Perceived weight discrimination and risk of incident dementia. Int J Obes 43, 1130–1134 (2019).

Download citation

Further reading


Quick links