Relations of Metabolic Health and Obesity to Brain Aging in Young to Middle-Aged Adults

Rebecca Angoff, Jayandra J. Himali, Pauline Maillard, Hugo J. Aparicio, Ramachandran S. Vasan, Sudha Seshadri, Alexa S. Beiser, Connie W. Tsao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: We aimed to evaluate the association between metabolic health and obesity and brain health measured via magnetic resonance imaging and neurocognitive testing in community dwelling adults. METHODS AND RESULTS: Framingham Heart Study Third Generation Cohort members (n=2170, 46±9 years of age, 54% women) without prevalent diabetes, stroke, dementia, or other neurologic conditions were grouped by metabolic unhealthiness (≥2 criteria for metabolic syndrome) and obesity (body mass index ≥30 kg/m2): metabolically healthy (MH) nonobese, MH obese, metabolically unhealthy (MU) nonobese, and MU obese. We evaluated the relationships of these groups with brain structure (magnetic resonance imaging) and function (neurocognitive tests). In multivariable-adjusted analyses, metabolically unhealthy individuals (MU nonobese and MU obese) had lower total cerebral brain volume compared with the MH nonobese referent group (both P<0.05). Additionally, the MU obese group had greater white matter hyperintensity volume (P=0.004), whereas no association was noted between white matter hyperintensity volume and either groups of metabolic health or obesity alone. Obese individuals had less favorable cognitive scores: MH obese had lower scores on global cognition, Logical Memory-Delayed Recall and Similarities tests, and MU obese had lower scores on Similarities and Visual Reproductions-Delayed tests (all P≤0.04). MU and obese groups had higher free water content and lower fractional anisotropy in several brain regions, consistent with loss of white matter integrity. CONCLUSIONS: In this cross-sectional cohort study of younger to middle-aged adults, poor metabolic health and obesity were associated with structural and functional evidence of brain aging. Improvement in metabolic health and obesity may present opportunities to improve long-term brain health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere022107
JournalJournal of the American Heart Association
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 15 2022


  • aging
  • cognitive aging
  • magnetic resonance imaging
  • metabolic syndrome
  • obesity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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