Executive function performance in obesity and overweight individuals: A meta-analysis and review

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HighlightsWe conducted a meta-analysis of associations between obesity/overweight and various executive functions.Obese participants showed broad impairments on executive function.Overweight participants showed significant deficits on inhibition and working memory performances.Measures of executive function moderated effects of obesity on working memory and decision-making.Prior research has suggested that obesity/overweight may be associated with deficits in executive function. If true, this has important clinical implications. In this review, we synthesize the current literature by conducting a meta-analysis of studies comparing executive functions in overweight/obese individuals to normal weight controls. We identified 72 studies—with 4904 overweight/obese participants—that met our inclusion criteria. Effect sizes were analyzed using the robust variance estimation random effects meta-regression technique. It was found that obese participants showed broad impairments on executive function, including on tasks primarily utilizing inhibition, cognitive flexibility, working memory, decision-making, verbal fluency, and planning; overweight participants only showed significant deficits in inhibition and working memory. The only moderator of effects of obesity to emerge significant was the task used to assess the respective executive function, which moderated effects of obesity on working memory and decision-making. There were not enough studies of overweight individuals to make strong claims about moderating effects in those studies. In sum, current evidence supports the existence of broad executive function deficits in obese individuals, and inhibition and working memory deficits in overweight individuals.

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