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OBJECTIVE: To help determine whether midlife obesity is a cause of dementia and whether low body mass index (BMI), low caloric intake, and physical inactivity are causes or merely consequences of the gradual onset of dementia by recording these factors early in a large 20-year prospective study and relating them to dementia detection rates separately during follow-up periods of <5, 5 to 9, 10 to 14, and 15+ years. METHODS: A total of 1,136,846 UK women, mean age 56 (SD 5) years, were recruited in 1996 to 2001 and asked about height, weight, caloric intake, and inactivity. They were followed up until 2017 by electronic linkage to National Health Service records, detecting hospital admissions with mention of dementia. Cox regression yielded adjusted rate ratios (RRs) for first dementia detection during particular follow-up periods. RESULTS: Fifteen years after the baseline survey, only 1% were lost to follow-up, and 89% remained alive with no detected dementia, of whom 18,695 had dementia detected later, at a mean age of 77 (SD 4) years. Dementia detection during years 15+ was associated with baseline obesity (BMI 30+ vs 20-24 kg/m2: RR 1.21, 95% confidence interval 1.16-1.26, p < 0.0001) but not clearly with low BMI, low caloric intake, or inactivity at baseline. The latter 3 factors were associated with increased dementia rates during the first decade, but these associations weakened substantially over time, approaching null after 15 years. CONCLUSIONS: Midlife obesity may well be a cause of dementia. In contrast, behavioral changes due to preclinical disease could largely or wholly account for associations of low BMI, low caloric intake, and inactivity with dementia detection during the first decade of follow-up.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





e123 - e132


Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Body Mass Index, Dementia, Energy Intake, Female, Humans, Incidence, Middle Aged, Obesity, Risk Factors, Sedentary Behavior, United Kingdom