Weight loss is associated with improvements in cognitive function among overweight and obese people: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2017 Jan:72:87-94. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2016.11.017. Epub 2016 Nov 24.


Whilst obesity is associated with a higher risk of cognitive impairment, the influence of weight loss on cognitive function in obese/overweight people is equivocal. We conducted a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and longitudinal studies evaluating the influence of voluntary weight loss on cognitive function in obese/overweight individuals. Articles were acquired from a systematic search of major databases from inception till 01/2016. A random effect meta-analysis of weight loss interventions (diet, physical activity, bariatric surgery) on different cognitive domains (memory, attention, executive functions, language and motor speed) was conducted. Twenty studies (13 longitudinal studies=551 participants; 7 RCTs=328 treated vs. 140 controls) were included. Weight loss was associated with a significant improvement in attention and memory in both longitudinal studies and RCTs, whereas executive function and language improved in longitudinal and RCT studies, respectively. In conclusion, intentional weight loss in obese/overweight people is associated with improvements in performance across various cognitive domains. Future adequately powered RCTs are required to confirm/refute these findings.

Keywords: Attention; Cognition; Memory; Meta-analysis; Nutrition; Obesity; Physical activity; Weight loss.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cognition*
  • Exercise
  • Humans
  • Obesity*
  • Overweight*
  • Weight Loss