The Relation of Adiposity to Cognitive Control and Scholastic Achievement in Preadolescent Children




Adiposity may be negatively associated with cognitive function in children. However, the findings remain controversial, in part due to the multifaceted nature of cognition and perhaps the lack of accurate assessment of adiposity. The aim of this study was to clarify the relation of weight status to cognition in preadolescent children using a comprehensive assessment of cognitive control, academic achievement, and measures of adiposity. Preadolescent children between 7 and 9 years (n = 126) completed Go and NoGo tasks, as well as the Wide Range Achievement Test 3rd edition (WRAT3), which measures achievement in reading, spelling, and arithmetic. In addition to BMI, fat mass was measured using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA). Data were analyzed with multiple regression analysis, controlling for confounding variables. Analyses revealed that BMI and fat mass measured via DXA were negatively associated with cognitive control, as children with higher BMI and fat mass exhibited poorer performance on the NoGo task requiring extensive amounts of inhibitory control. By contrast, no relation of weight status to performance was observed for the Go task requiring smaller amounts of cognitive control. Higher BMI and fat mass were also associated with lower academic achievement scores assessed on the WRAT3. These data suggest that adiposity is negatively and selectively associated with cognitive control in preadolescent children. Given that cognitive control has been implicated in academic achievement, the present study provides an empirical basis for the negative relationship between adiposity and scholastic performance.