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Dementia and obesity

Link between two is probed

November 8, 2011
By KYLE WHITNEY and COURTNEY CULEY - Journal Staff Writer ( , Special to the Journal

MARQUETTE - The rising number of Michigan residents with dementia and the state's increasing obesity rate could be linked.

Studies show that obesity in mid-life is among many risk factors for developing dementia later in life, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health.

While statistics indicate that obesity and dementia are both issues of increasing prevalence in Michigan, the numbers in Marquette County are above state averages in both areas.

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Between 2000 and 2010, the number of Michigan residents with dementia increased 6 percent, according to the department. The numbers are expected to increase.

In 2000, the Michigan obesity rate was 20 to 24 percent of adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last year, 31.7 percent of Michigan adults were considered obese, according to the health department. Five million adults and 800,000 children have weight problems.

In Marquette, the most recent numbers indicate that 31.3 percent of people are obese.

"Our rate is very similar to Michigan's rate, but Michigan is in the top 10 in the country, as far as obesity is concerned," said George Sedlacek, the community health division director with the Marquette County Health Department. "We are among the best of the worst."

Dementia is a deterioration of thinking that affects a person's daily living, said Stephen Campbell, program coordinator for the Alzheimer's Association Michigan Great Lakes Chapter. Alzheimer's is one type of dementia.

There is a very strong link between Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease, he said. Diabetes is prevalent in obese people.

"We know what's good for the heart is good for the brain," Stephen Campbell said. "Being obese is not good for the heart."

About 240,000 Michigan residents have dementia, according to the Michigan Dementia Coalition, a group that aims to improve the quality of life for people with dementia.

According to age-adjusted death statistics for 2005 to 2009, 23 out of every 100,000 deaths were related to Alzheimer's. In Marquette County, that number was 30 out of every 100,000.

Like other obesity-linked diseases, dementia is costly.

Family members and friends often care for dementia patients. If those caregivers were paid, the Alzheimer's Association estimates that Michigan would have spent more than $6 billion in 2010.

An estimated $202.6 billion was spent on dementia caregivers nationally, according to the association.

Due to high costs associated with dementia, the state encourages people to be proactive.

"While there are no known actions or behaviors that prevent developing dementia, Michigan Department of Community Health is encouraging people of all ages to eat healthy and exercise to reduce the incidence of obesity," said Angela Minicuci, public information officer for the Michigan Department of Community Health.

The connection between obesity and dementia is indirect.

Obesity can cause diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and depression, said Jo Campbell, coordinator for the Michigan Dementia Coalition. The connection between obesity and dementia comes from those related conditions.

Sedlacek said he has heard in the past that a higher percentage of those with Alzheimer's are obese, so he is not surprised by any of the more recent findings. He said poor health habits can have a number of negative consequences, including obesity and heart disease, and he wouldn't be shocked if dementia were also on that list.

According to Sedlacek, the best way to avoid all the negative repercussions is to live a healthy lifestyle, which includes getting 30 minutes of exercise five days a week and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.

"Our advice is that the human body is designed for work," he said. "When you stop doing work you have trends toward more chronic diseases."

Obesity is not a cause of dementia, which is a secondary condition, Jo Campbell said.

The state health department considers obesity and its associated risks a top priority, Minicuci said.

Michigan taxpayers already spend a lot of money on obesity-related issues.

In 2008 alone, Michigan spent an estimated $3.1 billion on obesity-related medical care, according to the state health agency. In 2018, the state expects that Michigan will spend $12.5 billion if the rates continue.

The department recently held a summit on obesity to discuss prevention and reduction measures in Michigan, Minicuci said.

"Recommendations from the summit are being used to craft a statewide work plan to address this critical issue," she said.

An ad campaign, much like Pure Michigan, could be developed to raise awareness of the obesity problem, said Olga Dazzo, the department's director.

Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.



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