Epidemiological studies have shown strong correlations between high fat diets, diet-induced obesity and cognitive impairment, primarily focusing on cognitive defects after the onset of obesity. A remaining question is whether cognitive impairment precedes obesity in individuals metabolically prone to diet-induced obesity. The inbred diet-induced obesity sensitive (DIO) and resistant (DR) strains of Sprague-Dawley rats serve as models for human polygenic obesity. DIO rats become overweight on a standard rat chow and have metabolic symptoms similar to overweight humans. We hypothesized that cognitive impairment pre-exists in adult male DIO rats prior to exposure to high fat diet. Male DIO and DR rats were fed a standard rat chow diet from 4 through 20 weeks of age and subjected to the Morris water maze at 12 weeks of age. At 5 and 20 weeks of age, brains of DIO and DR males were examined for indices of inflammation, lipid peroxidation and neuroproliferation. DIO rats showed significant memory impairment on water maze and increased indices of hippocampal inflammation at 20 weeks of age compared to DR rats. At 5 weeks of age, DIO rats exhibited significantly less neural progenitor cell (NPCs) proliferation in the dentate gyrus and increased hippocampal lipid peroxidation compared to DR rats. Therefore, we conclude that DIO rats exhibit early post-weaning indices of hippocampal inflammation, lipid peroxidation and decreased NPC proliferation, as well as impaired hippocampal dependent memory by early adulthood suggesting that inherent metabolic differences predispose the DIO strain to cognitive deficit prior to exposure to high fat diet and/or obesity.