The Associations between Adiposity, Cognitive Function, and Achievement in Children


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Abstract

Although obesity has been related to measures of academic achievement and cognition in children, the influence of fat distribution, specifically visceral adiposity, on select aspects of achievement and cognitive function remains poorly characterized among preadolescent children.PurposeThe aim of this study was to evaluate the relation of adiposity, particularly visceral adipose tissue (VAT), on achievement and cognitive function among children.MethodsChildren with obesity (ages 8–9 yr old, N = 55, 35 females) completed cognitive and academic tests. Normal weight children (N = 55, 35 females) were matched to this group on demographic characteristics and aerobic fitness. Covariate analyses included age, Brief Intellectual Ability, socioeconomic status, and fat-free V˙O2 (V˙O2 peak adjusted for lean mass; mL·kg lean−1·min−1). Adiposity (i.e., whole body percent fat, subcutaneous abdominal adipose tissue, and VAT) was assessed using dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry.ResultsThe results of this study revealed that, relative to their normal weight counterparts, children with obesity had significantly lower performance on tests of reading and math. Analyses revealed that among children with obesity, %Fat and subcutaneous abdominal adipose tissue were not related to cognitive abilities. However, higher VAT was associated with poorer intellectual abilities (Ps ≤ 0.04) and cognitive performance (i.e., thinking ability and cognitive efficiency, Ps ≤ 0.04). However, among normal weight children, VAT was positively associated with intellectual abilities and cognitive efficiency.ConclusionIn conclusion, the results suggest that VAT was selectively and negatively related with cognition among children with obesity. Along with the dangerous metabolic nature of VAT, its detrimental relationship with obese children’s intellectual and cognitive functioning is concerning.

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