New research shows that some obese children have distinct structural abnormalities of the brain and that they have lower cognitive function than kids who are not clinically obese.
The study, published in Pediatrics and supported by the National Institutes of Health, looked specifically at children with metabolic syndrome (MetS) . MetS stands for a group of risk factors that tend to occur together and increase one’s risk of developing problems such as coronary artery disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Researchers can’t link MetS entirely to obesity but it is currently noted that all the risks factors for the syndrome are related to obesity. Right now, it’s also known that central obesity, or excess weight in the middle and upper body regions is a key risk factors for MetS.
Forty-nine adolescents with MetS and 62 without MetS, matched on age, socioeconomic status, school grade, gender, and ethnicity had endocrine, MRI and neuropsychological evaluations to see how everyone compared.
The study results showed that adolescents with MetS scored significantly lower when it came to managing skills surrounding arithmetic and spelling. They also experienced significantly lower attention spans and lower mental flexibility, plus showcased a trend for lower overall intelligence. The obese children also had actual physical brain changes, such as “Smaller hippocampal volumes, increased brain cerebrospinal fluid, and reductions of microstructural integrity in major white matter tracts.”
The downside of this study is that it’s small. What this study means to parents though is significant, because small or not, if further research shows this study is right on the money, the cognitive problems outlined in this research may be on the rise, just like rates of obesity.