Prefrontal cortex-mediated executive function as assessed by Stroop task performance associates with weight loss among overweight and obese adolescents and young adults

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People with cognitive deficits or executive dysfunction are often overweight or obese. Several human neuroimaging studies have found that executive function (EF) predicts food intake and weight gain; however, fewer studies have investigated the relationship between EF and weight loss. The Stroop task is a classic measure of EF that is used in many neuroimaging studies. In the present work, functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) data were collected during performance of the Stroop task from a sample of overweight or obese adolescents and young adults (n = 31) who participated in a summer fitness and weight loss camp. We assessed the Stroop effect by interference in the reaction time (RT) to visual challenges, and by alterations in levels of oxygenated hemoglobin, as detected by fNIRS. In line with previous studies, we found that the Stroop effect was successfully induced by different visual task conditions among obese/overweight individuals. Moreover, our results reveal that better Stroop task performance is correlated with greater weight loss over a4-weekfitness intervention. Indeed, behavioral data demonstrated that reduced RT interference predicted a greater percentage of weight loss. Moreover, overweight/obese individuals with a greater hemodynamic response in the left ventrolateral and bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex due to the Stroop effect lost more weight during the short-term fitness intervention than participants with lower levels of activation of these neural regions. Overall, our results support a role for prefrontal cortex-mediated EF in influencing food intake and weight loss outcomes in a population of a previously unstudied age.

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