Obesity, Visceral Adipose Tissue, and Cognitive Function in Childhood

J Pediatr. 2017 Aug;187:134-140.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2017.05.023. Epub 2017 Jun 13.


Objectives: 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.

Study design: 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).

Results: 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).

Conclusions: 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: ClinicalTrials.gov: NCT01334359 and NCT01619826.

Keywords: adiposity; inhibitory control; physical activity.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity / physiology*
  • Body Weight
  • Child
  • Cognition*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intra-Abdominal Fat / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Pediatric Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Weight Loss

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01334359
  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01619826