Obesity linked to a thinner cerebral cortex in the brain among adolescents

A new study found obesity in adolescents may be linked to changes in brain development, a thinner cerebral cortex, in particular, based on a National Institutes of Health-funded research study. The results were published in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Pediatrics.

According to a team of researchers at the University of Vermont, an estimated 10,000 adolescents were studied over a period of 10 years, as part of the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study. Interviews, tests, blood samples, and brain scans were administered every 24 months to extract necessary insight among the adolescents.

“A total of 25.7 million children in the United States are classified as overweight or obese. Obesity is associated with deficits in executive function, which may contribute to poor dietary decision-making. Less is known about the associations between being overweight or obese and brain development,” the findings state.

“In this cross-sectional study, cortical thickness maps were derived from T1-weighted structural magnetic resonance images of a large, diverse sample of 9 and 10-year-old children from 21 US sites. List sorting, flanker, matrix reasoning, and Wisconsin card sorting tasks were used to assess executive function.”

Upon reaching its conclusion, the findings indicated that the participants with higher body mass index (BMI) demonstrated lower cortical thickness in the brain. These results suggest that BMI is correlated with cortical development and reduced executive functions, like cognition.

“Our hypothesis going into the study was that the thickness of the cerebral cortex would ‘mediate’ – or serve as an explanatory link for – the relationship between BMI and executive function,” said Jennifer Laurent, the study’s lead author.

“With prolonged exposure to obesity, it is possible that children have chronic inflammation, and that may actually be affecting their brain in the long term,” Laurent concluded.

“We did not look at behavior. It’s very important that this work not further stigmatize people who are obese or overweight.”

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