Health: Overweight people in their 20s and 30s TWICE as likely to have memory issues later in life

Overweight people in their 20s and 30s are TWICE as likely to have memory issues later in life, scientists warn

  • Experts analysed health data on some 15,000 people collected by past studies
  • They looked at cardiovascular risk factors impact cognitive capacity later in life
  • These factors included blood pressure, blood glucose and body mass index
  • High levels in early adulthood were linked to a higher rate of cognitive decline 
  • However, the team said they have identified an association, not a causal link

You may be twice as likely to develop late-life memory and cognitive issues if you are overweight or have high blood pressure or high glucose levels in your 20s/30s.

Researchers from the US analysed health data on 15,000 people, looking at the impact of cardiovascular risk factors on cognitive capacity later in life.

They found that high BMI and blood pressure in early adulthood can double the rate of cognitive decline — while high blood glucose levels increased in five-fold.

The researchers cautioned, however, that they only established an association between these health issues and late-life cognitive problems, not a causal link. 

You are twice as likely to develop problems with your memory late in life if you are overweight in your twenties or thirties, a study has warned (stock image)

‘These results are striking and suggest that early adulthood may be a critical time for the relationship between these health issues and late-life cognitive skills,’ said paper author and neurologist Kristine Yaffe of the University of California, San Francisco. 

‘It’s possible that treating or modifying these health issues in early adulthood could prevent or reduce problems with thinking skills in later life.’

In their work, Professor Yaffe and colleagues analysed findings pooled from four previous studies which together looked at the health of some 15,000 people aged between 18–95 who were each followed for between 10–30 years.

The data included at least three readings of the subject’s body mass index (BMI), blood glucose levels, blood pressure and cholesterol. In addition, each person’s cognitive skills were tested around every one–two years.

For those subject who were older when their data was collected, the researchers extrapolated their cardiovascular risk factors — such as blood pressure and BMI — for when they were younger.

In their analysis, the team looked to see whether having cardiovascular problems at different ages — specifically adulthood, middle age and late life — led to greater declines in late-life thinking and memory capabilities.

The team found that high BMI or blood pressure levels at any of the three periods analysed led to greater declines in cognitive skills in one’s senior years — but the worst effects were seen when these manifested in early adulthood. 

Specifically, such led to a doubling from the average rate of cognitive decline over the course of ten years — and the few cases where people had high blood glucose levels in their 20s and 30s led to around a five-fold increase in the rate of decline.

The team found the results stood even when they adjusted for other factors that could potentially impact cognition — including age, education level and sex.

High total cholesterol levels at any of the three stages of life analysed were not found to be linked to an increased decline in thinking skills.

‘More young people [are] developing diabetes and obesity in early adulthood,’ said Professor Yaffe.

‘With higher levels of underdiagnosed and undertreated cardiovascular problems, this could have significant public health implications for cognitive health.’ 

‘The impact of reducing these risk factors could be substantial,’ she concluded.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Neurology. 


Obesity is defined as an adult having a BMI of 30 or over.

A healthy person’s BMI – calculated by dividing weight in kg by height in metres, and the answer by the height again – is between 18.5 and 24.9. 

Among children, obesity is defined as being in the 95th percentile.

Percentiles compare youngsters to others their same age. 

For example, if a three-month-old is in the 40th percentile for weight, that means that 40 per cent of three-month-olds weigh the same or less than that baby.

Around 58 per cent of women and 68 per cent of men in the UK are overweight or obese. 

The condition costs the NHS around £6.1billion, out of its approximate £124.7 billion budget, every year.

This is due to obesity increasing a person’s risk of a number of life-threatening conditions.

Such conditions include type 2 diabetes, which can cause kidney disease, blindness and even limb amputations.

Research suggests that at least one in six hospital beds in the UK are taken up by a diabetes patient.

Obesity also raises the risk of heart disease, which kills 315,000 people every year in the UK – making it the number one cause of death.

Carrying dangerous amounts of weight has also been linked to 12 different cancers. 

This includes breast, which affects one in eight women at some point in their lives.

Among children, research suggests that 70 per cent of obese youngsters have high blood pressure or raised cholesterol, which puts them at risk of heart disease.

Obese children are also significantly more likely to become obese adults. 

And if children are overweight, their obesity in adulthood is often more severe.  

As many as one in five children start school in the UK being overweight or obese, which rises to one in three by the time they turn 10.