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. 2019 Dec 26;6(1):47-56.
doi: 10.1002/osp4.385. eCollection 2020 Feb.

Adverse Childhood Experiences and Cognitive Function Among Adults With Excess Adiposity

Free PMC article

Adverse Childhood Experiences and Cognitive Function Among Adults With Excess Adiposity

Misty Hawkins et al. Obes Sci Pract. .
Free PMC article


Background: Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and obesity are independently associated with brain/neurocognitive health. Despite a growing emphasis on the importance of early life adversity on health, the relationship between ACEs and neurocognition in adults with overweight/obesity is unclear. The objective was to examine associations between self-reported ACEs and measured neurocognitive domains in a sample of adults with overweight/obesity.

Methods: Participants were 95 predominantly white, highly educated adult women (76% female, 81% Caucasian, and 75% ≥ bachelor's degree) with excess adiposity enrolled in the Cognitive and Self-regulatory Mechanisms of Obesity Study. ACEs and fluid/crystallized neurocognitive domains were measured at baseline using the Adverse Childhood Experiences Scale and the NIH Toolbox Cognition Battery and Automated Neuropsychological Assessment Metric, respectively.

Results: Higher ACEs scores were negatively correlated with fluid cognition (r = -.34, P < .001) but not crystallized cognition (r = .01, ns). Individuals with 3 and 4+ ACEs displayed significantly lower fluid cognition scores than those with fewer ACEs F 4,89 = 3.24, P < .05. After accounting for body mass index (BMI), age, sex, race, and education, higher ACEs scores were still associated with poorer performance on overall fluid cognition (β = -.36, P < .01), along with the following subtests: Stroop Colour/Word test (β = -.23, P < .05), Go/No-Go omissions (β = .29, P < .01), and Picture Sequence Memory task (β = -.30, P < .01).

Conclusions: The role of ACEs in health may be related to their associations with executive function and episodic neurocognitive domains essential to cognitive processing and self-regulation. Obesity science should further examine the role of ACEs and neurocognition in obesity prevention, prognosis, and treatment using more rigorous, prospective designs and more diverse samples.

Keywords: adverse childhood experiences; cognitive function; early life adversity; obesity.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declared no conflict of interest.


Figure 1
Figure 1
Fluid cognition performance across adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) groups

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