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J Pediatr. 2017 Jun 13. pii: S0022-3476(17)30644-3. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2017.05.023. [Epub ahead of print]

Obesity, Visceral Adipose Tissue, and Cognitive Function in Childhood.

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Department of Psychology, Northeastern University, Boston, MA. Electronic address:
Department of Kinesiology and Community Health, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, IL.
Department of Kinesiology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI.
Department of Psychology, Northeastern University, Boston, MA; Beckman Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, IL.
Department of Psychology, Northeastern University, Boston, MA; Department of Health Science, Northeastern University, Boston, MA.



To evaluate the effects of a 9-month physical activity intervention on changes in adiposity and cognitive control based on pretrial weight status (ie, healthy weight vs obese) in children.


Participants included obese (n = 77) and matched healthy-weight (n = 77) preadolescents (8-9 years) who participated in a 9-month physical activity randomized controlled trial. Cognitive function was assessed with an inhibitory control task (modified flanker task).


After the 9-month physical activity intervention, participants exhibited a reduction in adiposity. In contrast, children in the waitlist-control condition, particularly children identified as obese pretrial, gained visceral adipose tissue (P= .008). Changes in visceral adipose tissue were related to changes in cognitive performance, such that the degree of reduction in visceral adipose tissue directly related to greater gains in inhibitory control, particularly among obese intervention participants (CI -0.14, -0.04; P= .001).


Participation in a daily physical activity program not only reduces adiposity but also improves children's cognitive function as demonstrated by an inhibitory control task. Furthermore, these findings reveal that the benefits of physical activity to improvements in cognitive function are particularly evident among children who are obese.

TRIAL REGISTRATION: NCT01334359 and NCT01619826.


adiposity; inhibitory control; physical activity

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