The researchers discovered that obesity and sarcopenia, when assessed independently, were associated with lower executive function, such as working memory, mental flexibility, self-control and orientation. But executive function was even lower when obesity and sarcopenia occurred together.
"Understanding the mechanisms through which this syndrome may affect cognition is important as it may inform efforts to prevent cognitive decline in later life by targeting at-risk groups with an imbalance between lean and fat mass," senior author James E. Galvin said in a statement. "They may benefit from programs addressing loss of cognitive function by maintaining and improving strength and preventing obesity."
Scientists are unsure why obesity is associated with cognitive dysfunction. However, they believe sedentary behavior, inflammation, and vascular damage could be factors. On the other hand, sarcopenia has already been linked to impairments in abilities that relate to conflict resolution and selective attention.
They concluded that “skinny fat” is a “significant public health concern” and are encouraging doctors to pay attention to patients who could be at risk.
“Sarcopenia either alone or in the presence of obesity, can be used in clinical practice to estimate potential risk of cognitive impairment,” coauthor Magdalena I. Tolea. “Testing grip strength by dynamometry can be easily administered within the time constraints of a clinic visit, and body mass index is usually collected as part of annual wellness visits.”
Want to learn more about the findings? The results were published in the journal Clinical Interventions in Aging.