Despite the clear differences in the volume of white matter between lean and overweight individuals, the researchers found no connection between being overweight or obese and an individual's cognitive abilities, as measured using a standard test similar to an IQ test.
"As our brains age, they naturally shrink in size, but it isn't clear why people who are overweight have a greater reduction in the amount of white matter," said first author Dr Lisa Ronan, "We can only speculate on whether obesity might in some way cause these changes or whether obesity is a consequence of brain changes."
Senior author Paul Fletcher added: "The fact that we only saw these differences from middle-age onwards raises the possibility that we may be particularly vulnerable at this age. It will also be important to find out whether these changes could be reversible with weight loss, which may well be the case."
The results are published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.
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