Overeating can ‘increase memory problems’

food and memory

People who overeat could be more at risk of memory problems, a new study has found. 

The ability to recall past events was worse in overweight young adults aged 18 to 35 years old than those with an average BMI, the University of Cambridge found. 

The small study suggests bodyweight can affect the structure and function of the brain. 

The episodic memory - where you relive a past event - can affect how vividly we remember a meal, says study author Dr Lucy Cheke. This can impact how hungry we feel. 

While obesity has been connected with dysfunction of the hippocampus, the area involved in memory and learning, and the frontal lobe, which controls decision making, problem solving and emotions, evidence that weight affects memory impairment is limited.

Small study

The recent study only involved 50 participants. They were all aged 18 to 35 and had BMIs ranging from 18 (healthy) to 51 (obese). 

It involved a memory test known as the 'Treasure-Hunt Task'. Participants were asked to hide items around complex scenes and to remember which items had been hidden, and when and where they’d hidden them. 

Those with a higher BMI performed worse on the test. 

The researchers warn more needs to be done to establish a stronger link between weight and memory. 

Psychological factors in weight gain

The results suggest psychological factors play a part in weight gain. 

Dr Cheke says even the possibility that episodic memory is worse in overweight individuals is a big concern as there’s growing evidence this type of memory can influence feeding behaviours and appetite regulation. 

Co-author Dr Jon Simons hopes the study will lead to a better understanding of the problem and eventually ways to intervene and bring about a real difference to people’s health and wellbeing. 

The study was published in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.

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