South Texas Scientists Link Obesity to Alzheimer’s Gene


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Researchers from UT Health San Antonio have tied obesity to with 21 Alzheimer’s disease-related genes.

In analyzing 74 Alzheimer’s-related genes from the Framingham Heart Study, researchers found that 21 of them were either under-expressed or over-expressed in obesity.

“Several of the genes were more strongly related to obesity in midlife versus in late life, and also to obesity in women versus men,” said Dr. Claudia Satizabal, study lead author and assistant professor of population health sciences at UT Health San Antonio.

Alzheimer’s Genes Linked to Obesity

The UT Health San Antonio study also found 13 Alzheimer’s-related genes were associated with body mass index (BMI) and eight genes associated with a second metric of obesity called waist-to-hip ratio.

“Those observations are in line with prior epidemiological studies that suggested midlife obesity may be a factor in Alzheimer’s disease risk in women,” Satizabal said in a press release.

85% of U.S. adults are projected to be overweight or obese by 2030.

Dementia is estimated to impact 131 million people by 2050, making the connection between brain health and body weight crucial to understand.

Latinos and Alzheimer’s Disease  

Latinos are 1.5 times as likely as their white peers to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Latinos are at risk for dementia because of medical conditions that are considered risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s – like high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease – which are all prevalent among older Latinos, according to a Salud America! resource.

Older Latino Couple

The new study also implicates obesity, which is high among Latinos.


“The 21 dementia-related genes associated with obesity in the new analysis are implicated in several Alzheimer’s disease processes, including neuro-inflammation, programmed cell death and deposition of amyloid-beta protein in neurons,” said Dr. Sokratis Charisis, resident physician in the Department of Neurology and Biggs Institute and first author of the new study.

How Can Latinos Improve Brain Health?  

Latinos have some options to maintain brain health.

Everyday habits, including physical activity through dancing, could help Latinos improve working memory.

Another study found that consumption of cold-water fish and other sources of omega-3 fatty acids could preserve brain health and enhance cognition in middle age.

“We think the associations between Alzheimer’s-related genes and obesity might be even more relevant in Hispanics, who have a higher prevalence of obesity, but that is yet to be tested,” Satizabal said.

Latinos and Obesity

People who develop dementia tend to lose weight about five to 10 years before the onset of the disease. This may be unhealthy weight loss driven by the disease, according to the new study press release.

This highlights the need to address obesity in middle age.

“We think it is more important to address obesity and begin healthy weight loss in midlife, in one’s 40s and 50s, when obesity may be impacting expression of the genes we studied,” Satizabal said.

The Latino population struggles greatly with obesity, with Latino adults have higher obesity rates than their white peers (47% and 37.9%), the same with Latino children (20.7% and 11.7%).

Many factors contribute to Latinos suffering high rates of obesity, including health disparities like diabetes and a systemic lack of access to healthy and nutritious food.

A research review by Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio suggests ways to increase healthy food access and consumption in Latino neighborhoods including:

  • Healthy food financing initiatives.
  • More marketing of healthy foods.
  • Support from local government and policymakers.
  • More research on access to local healthy foods impacts dietary habits and obesity in Latino communities.
  • Groups help corner stores to expand their inventory of healthy, affordable foods.

Latino Participation in Clinical Trials

To improve brain health research equity, diverse volunteers are needed.

“We need to increase the sampling of diverse populations to find more genetic markers related to dementia,” Satizabal said.

Diverse participation in clinical trials is crucial to help researchers better understand how diseases like Alzheimer’s affect Latinos, said Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez, leader of Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio.

“This massive underrepresentation of Latinos in clinical trials makes it hard for researchers to develop new treatments for this group, which suffers a heavy burden of cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases,” said Ramirez.

There are plenty of volunteer opportunities at UT Health San Antonio, including the Glenn Biggs Institute biobank, where the public can volunteer to provide a blood sample.

“We recommend also participating in cognitive testing, having an MRI and completing other questionnaires. This is a study conducted by our South Texas Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC). We are collecting information and following people over time,” Satizabal said.

Those interested in participating can contact Dr. Monica Goss, coordinator of the South Texas ADRC observational study, at 210-450-8073 or

Individuals can also sign up to be matched with a research program by entering their contact information here.

You can also visit the Salud America! clinical trials page to find an open trial that is most beneficial to you and your familia!


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