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Int J Obes (Lond). 2013 Oct;37(10):1336-43. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2013.104. Epub 2013 Jun 5.

Visceral fat is associated with lower executive functioning in adolescents.

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1] Rotman Research Institute, Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada [2] Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.



Obesity, a major risk factor for cardiometabolic disease, is associated with lower cognitive performance from childhood to senescence, especially on tasks of executive function. In the cardiovascular domain, fat stored viscerally rather than elsewhere in the body carries particularly high risk. It is unknown whether this is also true in case of obesity-cognition relationships. The aim of this study was to assess the cross-sectional relationship between visceral fat (VF) and cognitive performance in a community sample of healthy adolescents.


In a community-based sample of 983 adolescents (12-18 years old, 480 males), VF was quantified using magnetic resonance imaging, total body fat was measured using a multifrequency bioimpedance, and cognitive performance was assessed using a battery of cognitive tests measuring executive function and memory.


We found that larger volumes of VF were associated with lower performance on six measures of executive function (P=0.0001-0.02). We also found that the association of VF with executive function was moderated by sex for a subset of measures, such that relationship was present mainly in female subjects and not in male subjects (sex-by-VF interaction: P=0.001-0.04). These relationships were independent of the quantity of total body fat and a number of potential confounders, including age, puberty stage and household income.


Our results suggest that the adverse association between obesity and executive function may be attributed to fat stored viscerally and not to fat stored elsewhere in the body. They also suggest that female subjects compared with male subjects may be more sensitive to the potentially detrimental effects of VF on cognition.

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