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MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Could a few extra pounds in your prime years saddle you with dementia as a senior? A new study finds overweight people in their 20s and 30s are twice as likely to have a worse memory and declining mental skills later in life.

Researchers tell the American Academy of Neurology that high blood pressure, obesity, and high blood glucose levels all have a connection to larger declines in cognitive functions in comparison to those with a normal body mass index. The findings reveal health problems in early adulthood also have a link to the greatest change in thinking abilities; doubling the average rate of decline over a 10-year period.

Researchers pooled the results from a total of 15,000 people followed for 10 to 30 years. Scientists tracked the group’s BMI, blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol readings. Participants also had their thinking and memory skills tested every one to two years.

Weight and poor health slows the brain down

People with a BMI higher than 30, or moderately obese, had scores on thinking tests four points lower than participants not registering as overweight. The results remained the same when looking at higher blood pressure and glucose levels. However, cholesterol did not appear to not have any effect on cognitive decline. Researchers also adjusted for factors such as education level, age, and sex when examining each individual.

Few people had high blood glucose levels in their 20s and 30s, but those who did had even greater cognitive decline later on. Their scores decreased at four times the rate of people with normal blood sugar.

“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,” says Dr. Kristine Yaffe from the University of California-San Francisco in a media release. “It’s possible that treating or modifying these health issues in early adulthood could prevent or reduce problems with thinking skills in later life.”

“With more young people developing diabetes and obesity in early adulthood, along with higher levels of underdiagnosed and undertreated cardiovascular problems, this could have significant public health implications for cognitive health in late life,” Dr. Yaffe concludes. “The impact of reducing these risk factors could be substantial.”

The findings appear in the journal Neurology.

SWNS writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.

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