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Changes in brain structure in overweight children are noticeable
A connection between childhood obesity and cognitive impairments has long been discussed in the professional world. A new study by US scientists has now been able to demonstrate that changes in the brain structure occur in overweight children, which can lead to reduced executive function of the brain.
Researchers at the University of Vermont and Yale University found that an increasing body mass index (BMI) tended to have a reduced working memory and identified changes in brain structure - a thinner prefrontal cortex - as a possible cause of this. Her study results were published in the specialist magazine "JAMA Pediatrics".
Cognitive impairment in overweight children
Obesity among children is relatively widespread in the modern industrialized nations and those affected are at risk of lifelong health consequences. It was already known from previous studies that their cognitive performance may also be impaired, however the reasons for this have so far remained unclear.
Data from over 3,000 children evaluated
In the current study, the researchers examined the connections between being overweight and the executive function of the brain. They used the data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study, in which the participants were interviewed every two years, carried out a series of tests, took blood samples and carried out brain tests. A total of 3,190 nine and ten year olds were evaluated.
Tending to have less working memory
First of all, the data analysis confirmed the results of previous studies and showed that participants with a higher BMI tended to have a lower working memory, reports the research team. In addition, it has become clear that children with a higher BMI have on average a thinner cerebral cortex, especially in the prefrontal area, says lead author Jennifer Laurent from the University of Vermont.
Modified structure of the cerebral cortex
The thinner cerebral cortex, which has often been seen in overweight children, is an important consideration because "we know that executive function, things like memory and the ability to plan are controlled in this area of the brain," said University University Scott Mackey of Vermont's Larner College of Medicine. The changed thickness of the cerebral cortex could explain the relationship between being overweight and executive function.
Possible explanations for the context
Further research is now needed to find out what the connection between brain structure and obesity is based on, the research team reports. For example, it could be "that a thinner prefrontal cortex affects decision-making in some children and they make unhealthy nutritional decisions that lead to obesity," explains Jennifer Laurent.
Chronic inflammation as the cause?
According to the researchers, the changed brain structure could also be a direct result of being overweight. It is “from rodent models and adult studies (known) that obesity can cause low-grade inflammatory effects that actually change the cell structure,” reports Laurent. With prolonged obesity, it is possible that children develop chronic inflammation that affects their brain in the long term.
In view of the new study results, the researchers are in favor of proactively promoting healthy eating and exercise behavior in children at a young age, with the knowledge that "not only the heart is affected by obesity, but perhaps also the brain." (Fp )
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Dipl. Geogr. Fabian Peters
- Jennifer S. Laurent, Richard Watts, Shana Adise, et al .: Associations Among Body Mass Index, Cortical Thickness, and Executive Function in Children; in: JAMA Pediatrics (published 09.12.2019), jamanetwork.com
- University of Vermont: Study: Obesity could affect brain development in children (published December 18, 2019), eurekalert.org