Relation Between Central Adiposity and Cognitive Function in the Maine–Syracuse Study: Attenuation by Physical Activity

  • Gregory A. DoreEmail author
  • Merrill F. Elias
  • Michael A. Robbins
  • Marc M. Budge
  • Penelope K. Elias
Original Article



Previous studies have demonstrated a relationship between central adiposity and cognitive function. However, only some of these studies have adjusted for cardiovascular risk factors and cardiovascular disease, and none have also adjusted for physical activity level.


The purpose of the study was to examine the association between anthropometric measures of central adiposity (waist circumference and waist/hip ratio) and cognitive functioning with adjustment for cardiovascular disease risk factors and physical activity.


Participants were 917 stroke- and dementia-free community-dwelling adults (59% women) in the Maine–Syracuse Study. The design was cross-sectional. Outcome measures included tests from the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, the Halstead-Reitan Neuropsychological Battery, the Wechsler Memory Scale Revised, and the Mini-Mental State Examination.


Waist circumference and waist/hip ratio were inversely related to multiple cognitive domains with adjustment for age, education, gender, and number of prior exams. For example, a 20-cm increment in waist circumference was associated with a 0.14 SD decrement in the Global Composite score. These relations were attenuated with adjustment for cardiovascular disease risk factors. However, with further adjustment for physical activity level, only waist circumference remained significantly associated with performance on the Similarities test.


Waist circumference and waist/hip ratio are inversely related to cognitive function. Measures of central adiposity predict cognitive function independently of associated cardiovascular risk factors and events; however, the association between central adiposity and cognitive function is attenuated, to a large extent, by adjustment for physical activity level. Physical activity is an important covariate in studies relating measures of central adiposity to cognition.


Waist circumference Waist/hip ratio Adiposity Cognitive function Physical activity Cardiovascular risk 



This study was supported in part by Research Grants HL67358 and HL81290 from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and Research Grant AG03055 from the National Institute on Aging. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the National Institute on Aging, or the National Institutes of Health. The authors wish to thank Suzanne Brennan for assistance in data collection, and Amanda Goodell and Anna Sweeney for assistance in copyediting.


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Copyright information

© The Society of Behavioral Medicine 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gregory A. Dore
    • 1
    Email author
  • Merrill F. Elias
    • 1
    • 2
  • Michael A. Robbins
    • 1
    • 2
  • Marc M. Budge
    • 3
  • Penelope K. Elias
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MaineOronoUSA
  2. 2.Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, University of MaineOronoUSA
  3. 3.Department of Geriatric MedicineAustralian National University Medical SchoolCanberraAustralia

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