Obesity can present a wide variety of health problems, but a new study finds a loss of memory could be among the problems faced by obese adults. This is the latest in a series of studies that seems to suggest a link between excess pounds and reduced cognitive functions.
A loss of memory could also drive patients to consume additional food and gain excess weight, researchers speculate. Investigators suggest that incompletely-formed memories of meals could drive people to eat more food, compounding the problem.
"Increasingly, we're beginning to see that memory — especially episodic memory, the kind where you mentally relive a past event — is also important. How vividly we remember a recent meal, for example today's lunch, can make a difference to how hungry we feel and how much we are likely to reach out for that tasty chocolate bar later on," said Lucy Cheke of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.
Previous studies have recorded negative effects on the hippocampus in obese subjects. This area of the brain controls the autonomic nervous system and emotions, and acts as a storage spot for many memories.
This new study examined just a small population — 50 individuals between the ages of 18 and 35. The body-mass index (BMI) of these participants ranged between 18 (on the lower cusp of a healthy weight to extremely obese. Subjects took part in a treasure hunt, in which they were asked to hide items around a detailed landscape. Later, participants were asked about the items they had hidden, where the objects were located, and the time items were placed in their hiding spots. People with higher BMIs were found to perform more poorly than others at the required tasks.
Researchers were quick to point out that their study does not necessarily show that obese people are more forgetful than the general population. Due to the small sample size in this study, investigators are calling for other researchers to examine, and hopefully expand, on their work examining potential links between obesity and memory.
Study of how obesity can affect memory was published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.
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