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.
© 2019 The Authors. Obesity Science & Practice published by World Obesity and The Obesity Society and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Conflict of interest statement
The authors declared no conflict of interest.
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