Lifestyle choices and health-related issues are perplexing enough without new research appearing which questions previously held beliefs. It was all so simple in the good old days – fat was bad for you, excessive eating and lack of exercise coupled with poor lifestyle choices like smoking and drinking alcohol to excess (although in my book the medically recommended weekly quota is barely enough to get you in the mood) was probably going to shorten your life. You buys your chips and takes your chance.
Of course, in the days when life was a much more hand-to-mouth affair, our ancestors barely had time for any of this dietary nonsense. They ate what they caught or grew or bartered. It may be me but empirically I think people who struggled through the Second World War and the consequential period of rationing seem healthier than the baby boomer and subsequent generations. Again, a major reason is that they had to make do with what they had. The start of the road to perdition was higher living standards, greater disposal income, the emergence of supermarkets, pre-packaged convenience foods and choice.
I am mildly concerned that after decades of weight stability I am beginning to put some weight on – nothing too drastic but I am no longer quite the svelte-like figure I once was. I was musing whether to break a life-long resolution by taking up some form of physical activity, exercising grey cells and moving digits along keyboards, seemingly, being insufficient to stop me putting on the avoirdupois.
I was halted in my tracks when I came across a piece of research in the ever popular Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology journal conducted by scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine which concluded that people who are underweight in middle age or even on the low side of normal weight run a significantly higher risk of dementia as they get older.
The study involved reviewing the medical records of 2 million people in the UK and found that at highest risk are those in middle-age with a Body Mass Index of less than 20. BMI is a ratio involving a combination of height and weight and 18.5 has usually been considered to be the lower limit of normal weight, usually reflecting that the individual is a short-arse. (Incidentally, it has been a bad time for short-arses. A study led by Professor Sir Nilesh Samani at the University of Leicester has found that there is an increased relative risk of 13.5% of heart disease for every 2.5 inch difference in height. In other words, someone who is 5 feet will be 32% more likely to have heart disease than someone who is 5 feet 6. It is in your genes and there’s nowt you can do about it. But I digress).
People, the study revealed, with a BMI below 20 are 34% more likely to have dementia as they age than those with a BMI of between 20 and 25. The heavier people are, the more the risk declines and so those with BMIs in excess of 40 are 29% less likely to get dementia 15 years later than those in the normal weight category.
What the study fails to take into consideration, I would venture to suggest, is that lard buckets are unlikely to live long enough to attain an age where dementia is an issue. But, hey who am I to argue against medical opinion? I have already deleted the running shoes from my wish list and am off out to visit our local, friendly, welcoming McDonalds.