Researcher in Lancaster secures funding to improve knowledge of obesity and dementia risk

21 September 2022

  • Scientists will look at the effects of overweight fathers on children’s future dementia risk
  • The project will look at differences in brain structure as well as memory and thinking in young people with overweight vs healthy fathers

This World Alzheimer’s Day (Wednesday 21 September) Alzheimer’s Research UK has announced new funding for a research project to better understand dementia risk. A researcher from Lancaster University has been awarded just under £350,000 to embark on a major research project over four years looking at the links between obesity in parents and the effect to their children’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life.

Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia affecting around 600,000 people in the UK today. The changes in the brain that cause Alzheimer’s begin up to 20 years before symptoms show, and emerging research is showing that lifestyle factors affect a person’s risk of developing the disease.

With up to 40% of all dementia cases being linked to factors within a person’s control - and so potentially preventable - it is important that researchers can unpick these risk factors to inform public health messaging.

Research has shown that obesity is a risk factor for dementia, and previous work by Dr Cheryl Hawkes has already looked at the effects of overweight mothers on children’s dementia risk. Now in this grant from Alzheimer’s Research UK she will continue this research looking at obesity in fathers.

Dr Hawkes and her team will use information collected across three generations of people who took part in the Framingham Heart Study – a large-scale, long-term research project that is looking at characteristics over people’s life that contribute to heart disease. Dr Hawkes’ team will now use the data from this study to look at dementia risk in participants whose fathers were overweight at the time they were conceived.

Dr Cheryl Hawkes from Lancaster University said:

“I am thrilled to have received this funding towards my research looking deeper into what makes up our risk of developing dementia. I will look at people’s memory and thinking skills, brain structures and biological markers of Alzheimer’s disease to see if there are differences in people whose fathers were classified as overweight.

“Recent research has implicated parental health as a potentially important factor that can influence brain health throughout our lives. My research will shed light on the effects of parental diet and weight on children’s risk of developing dementia and has the potential to inform future public health messaging.”

Dr Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK said:

“Around 1,200 people are living with dementia in Lancaster alone, and research has the power to stop this figure rising year after year.

“What is good for our heart health is also good for our brain health, so Alzheimer’s Research UK encourage people to stay active, socially connected and involved in activities and hobbies that they enjoy. It is also important to maintain a healthy balanced lifestyle. You can find out more about how to look after your brain health at www.thinkbrainhealth.org.uk.

“This World Alzheimer’s Month, we encourage you to take part in life-changing dementia research by signing up to Join Dementia Research. You can do this at www.joindementiaresearch.org or by calling our Dementia Research Infoline on 0300 111 5 111 (Monday – Friday, 9-5pm).”