Study: Obesity and Heart Factors Combine to Cause Cognitive Decline in Latinos

Obesity is linked to serious health consequences.

The 47% of U.S. Latinos who have obesity are at higher risk for high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and certain cancers.

Now we’re learning that obesity and heart factors combine to cause cognitive decline in Latinos, according to a recent study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.

Researchers studied cognitive exams at two time points — seven years apart —from over 6,000 participants in the Study of Latinos-Investigation of Neurocognitive Aging (SOL-INCA). They also tested participants for obesity cardiometabolic abnormality, which is two or more of high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglycerides, and low “good” cholesterol.

They found that obesity alone did not predict how well someone performed on cognitive testing seven years later.

“These data clearly suggest that individuals with obesity take a big hit to their cognition when other risk factors, such as diabetes and high cholesterol, are present,” said study first author Dr. Ariana M. Stickel of UC San Diego in a press release.

“Obesity/fat stigma tends to put a hyper-focus on a number on the scale, sometimes at the expense of other health goals. If maintaining a specific weight is difficult, preventing or managing cardiometabolic abnormalities is just as important, if not more important from a cognitive health standpoint.”

The State of Obesity Among Latinos

Salud America! research shows that U.S. Latinos face health inequities in many areas—from poverty and social support to access to affordable housing and transit—that contribute to higher rates of obesity.

Latino adults have higher obesity rates than their white peers (47% and 37.9%).

Latino children do, too (20.7% and 11.7%).

obesity care week bicycle rider latino manAccording to NYU School of Medicine, obesity may be one of the most important predictors of severe illness among young patients. This includes disparities in diabetes, risk for COVID-19, and more.

“Weight can fluctuate in later life, and we sometimes see sharp declines in weight in Alzheimer’s disease. However, this pattern has yet to be well-characterized in a diverse Latino cohort,” said Dr. Hector M. González of UC San Diego in a press release.

The UC San Diego study examined people ages 50-86.

But they were unable to assess age-of-onset or duration of obesity and/or cardiometabolic abnormality.

“Unfortunately, obesity and subsequent cardiometabolic abnormalities are seen at younger ages, and Latinos have the highest rates of childhood obesity in the United States,” González said. “It is unclear if and how this impacts cognition, job performance, and the workforce as a whole.”

The State of Heart Disease Among Latinos

Cancer is the leading cause of death in Latinos.

Overall rates of heart disease and overall cardiac mortality are lower among Latinos than non-Latinos. However, reports suggest insufficient understanding of Latino heart health in general. For example, a recent observational study in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal showed that high blood pressure triples the risk of severe walking disability in Latinos who have multiple sclerosis (MS).

In the UC San Diego study, heart issues combine with obesity to cause cognitive decline in Latinos.

“Health care workers and researchers need to invest more time into developing culturally appropriate interventions to tackle obesity and cardiometabolic abnormalities among Latinos of all ages,” González said.

What Can We Do To Address Obesity and Heart Disease among Latinos?

Latinos face health barriers because of structural and systemic policies that curb their access to quality housing, transportation, medical care, food, jobs, schools, parks and other social determinants of health.

Individuals have no choice when it comes to these structural health barriers.

Obesity Care Week 2020 photo from the World Obesity Federation“Despite the tremendous, lifelong impact of our community conditions on our health, we focus most of our energy and resources on treating the outcomes of these problems but lack the essential urgency for attacking the root causes of poor health,” according to Brian C. Castrucci, Dr. Johnathan Fielding, and John Auerbach.

Go here to learn how to “think structuralist” instead of individualist.

“Improving health equity depends on improving structural conditions and decreasing social vulnerability to prevent the emergence of unmet social needs,” writes Salud America! curator Amanda Merck.

You can help your city shift more rapidly to structuralist action is to help them declare racism a public health crisis (and commit to concrete action).

Download the free Salud America!Get Your City to Declare Racism a Public Health Crisis Action Pack“!

The Action Pack will help you gain feedback from local social justice groups and advocates of color. It will also help you start a conversation with city leaders for a resolution to declare racism a public health issue along with a commitment to take action to change policies and practices. It will also help build local support.

get the action pack

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