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Find out how obesity affects your memory

The relationship between obesity and memory is a two-way street: being overweight or obese not only impacts the memory function, but may also affect future eating behaviour by altering our recollections of previous eating experiences

While the impact of obesity on the body is an oft-discussed topic, the effect of excess body weight on the mind is seldom noticed. However, according to a recent study at the University of Cambridge there is a clear relationship between your body weight and IQ quotient.

According to a report in BBC, researchers Lucy Cheke and her colleagues at the university asked a few volunteers to participate in a ‘treasure hunt’. The participants navigated a virtual environment on a computer screen, dropping off various objects along their way. They then answered a series of questions to test their memory of the task, such as where they had hidden a particular object.

Interestingly, they found that the higher a participant’s body mass index (BMI)– a measure of your weight relative to your height, the worse he/she performed in the treasure hunt task.

In doing so, Cheke has contributed to a small but growing body of evidence showing that obesity is linked to brain shrinkage and memory deficits. This research suggests that obesity may contribute to the development of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

The relationship between obesity and memory is a two-way street: being overweight or obese not only impacts the memory function, but may also affect future eating behaviour by altering our recollections of previous eating experiences.

Recently, a brain scanning study, including over 500 participants, confirmed that being overweight or obese is associated with a greater degree of age-related brain degeneration. These effects were biggest in middle-aged people, in whom the obesity-related changes corresponded to an estimated increase in ‘brain age’ of 10 years.

Obesity is a complex condition with many contributing factors, however; so exactly how it might affect brain structure and function is still unclear.

This should be of particular concern, given recent evidence that the path between memory and obesity may go both ways, as attention and memory control our appetite and eating behaviour. In other words, a deficit in your memory could cause you to gain weight.

Attention and memory are independent of each other, but they are closely linked – we cannot remember something that we did not pay attention to and, by the same token, our memories of something tend to be more vivid the more we attend to it.

It’s therefore possible that a vivid memory of lunch could reactivate the body’s physiological state, so that we do not feel so hungry, and consequently eat less at dinner. On the other hand, someone who was distracted during lunch would form weak memories of the meal, and so thinking about it at dinner might make them feel hungrier and eat more.

 

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