Delmonico, Matthew J.
Obesity, older women, cognitive function, Tai Chi, weight loss
Obesity, defined as a body mass index (BMI) of ≥ 30 kg/m2, is a major public health problem in the United States, affecting over 34% of Americans. Among the populations with the highest obesity prevalence is women aged 60 years and older. As a Kinesiology major, I find it very important to examine the complications that arise as a result of obesity.
We know that obese individuals run the risk of developing hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, and coronary heart disease. A potential health risk associated with obesity that is understudied is cognitive functioning impairment, like dementia. Dementia is one of the largest growing diseases known, and is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States today. It has been shown that the dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH) diet has been successful in improving cognitive functioning in sedentary adults. The DASH diet emphasizes increased whole grains, fruits and vegetable, and poly- and monounsaturated fat intakes, decreased sodium and saturated fat intakes, and increases in physical activity. There is also research that Tai Chi exercise, a martial art exercise form, helps improve cognitive functioning in older adults. However, there is conflicting evidence about the role of Tai Chi during weight loss and its effects on cognitive functioning in obese older women.
Women, on the whole, have been shown to have a greater life expectancy than males, but also have a greater chance of living with disability with aging. Forty-one percent of American women aged 60 or older are obese. As an aspiring physical therapist, I realize that this population group will likely compose a large portion of my patient population.
In tandem with the UR-IDEAL (The University of Rhode Island Dietary Education and Active Lifestyle) study led by Drs. Matt Delmonico and Furong Xu from the Kinesiology department and Dr. Ingrid Lofgren from the Nutrition department, I analyzed the results of a 16-week, randomized exercise and dietary weight loss intervention and its effect on the participants’ cognitive functioning as measured by the digit symbol substitution test.