Structural brain differences and cognitive functioning related to body mass index in older females

Katrin Walther, Alex C. Birdsill, Elizabeth L. Glisky, Lee Ryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

234 Scopus citations


Little is known about the effect of obesity on brain structures and cognition in healthy older adults. This study examined the association between body mass index (BMI), regional volume differences in gray and white matter measured by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and cognitive functioning in older females. Participants included 95 community-dwelling older females (ages 52-92 years) who underwent extensive neuropsychological testing and high-resolution MRI scanning. Optimized voxel-based morphometry techniques were employed to determine the correlation between BMI and regional gray and white matter volumes. Volumes of significant regions were then correlated with cognitive functioning. Higher BMI was associated with decreased gray matter volumes in the left orbitofrontal, right inferior frontal, and right precentral gyri, a right posterior region including the parahippocampal, fusiform, and lingual gyri, and right cerebellar regions, as well as increased volumes of white matter in the frontal, temporal, and parietal lobes, even when hypertension was considered. Compared to normal weight women, obese women performed poorer on tests of executive functioning. Smaller gray matter volume in the left orbitofrontal region was associated with lower executive functioning. Additionally, despite the lack of significant group differences in memory and visuomotor speed, gray and white matter volumes predicted performance on these measures. The results provide additional evidence for a negative link between increased body fat and brain functioning in older females.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1052-1064
Number of pages13
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2010


  • Aging
  • Cognition
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Obesity
  • Voxel-based morphometry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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