Obesity is linked to a heightened risk of dementia in later life, according to new research which has particular significance for Ireland.
Two in every three adults in Ireland are considered overweight or obese and public health experts predict Ireland could be the fattest country in Europe in 2030.
A study published in the Postgraduate Medical Journal reported that the age at which a person is obese seems to be a key factor in determining dementia risk with a tripling in risk for people who are obese in their 30s.
The study was based on anonymous data from hospital records for the whole of England for the period 1999-2011. Data in which obesity had been recorded was searched for any subsequent care for, or death from, dementia.
During the study period, 451,232 of those admitted to hospital in England were diagnosed with obesity, 43% of them men. The analysis then revealed an incremental decrease in overall risk of hospital admission for dementia the older a person was when a diagnosis of obesity was first recorded, irrespective of gender.
For those aged 30-39, the relative risk of developing dementia was 3.5 times higher than in those of the same age who were not obese.
For those in their 40s, the equivalent heightened risk fell to 70% more; for those in their 50s the risk factor was 50% more; and for those in their 60sit had dropped 40% more. People in their 70s with obesity were neither at heightened or lowered risk of developing dementia, while those in their 80s were 22pc less likely to develop the disease, the findings indicated. This is an observational study, so no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect.
But the findings confirm smaller published studies from elsewhere which report an increased risk of dementia in young people who are obese, but a reduced risk in older obese people, say the researchers. They speculate that a possible explanation for the particularly high risk found in early to mid-life may lie in the fact that heavier weight is associated with diabetes and cardiovascular risk factors which in turn are linked to a heightened risk of dementia.
And it would seem that if people can stave off significant weight gain until at least their 60s, or survive long enough with obesity, they may have a lower risk of developing dementia, they suggest.
"While obesity at a younger age is associated with an increased risk of future dementia, obesity in people who have lived to about 60-80 years of age seems to be associated with a reduced risk," concludes the study.
Estimates suggest that almost 66 million people around the globe will have dementia by 2030, with the numbers predicted to top 115 million by 2050. There are 48,000 people living with dementia in Ireland.
Older people in groups and organisations who want to get more active are invited to apply for funding from the Go for Life Small Grant Scheme.
The scheme helps groups set up exercise programmes by drawing down the grant to buy equipment, run sports events or try new activities.
Age and Opportunity and the Irish Sports Council, which run the scheme, say over 1,000 groups availed last year
Each grant awarded this year will be between €250 and €700.
The closing date for applications is Friday, September 26. Application forms are available on the Age and Opportunity website www.ageandopportunity.ie or from the Go for Life office (01) 805 7733.
Health & Living