The differential relationship of an afterschool physical activity intervention on brain function and cognition in children with obesity and their normal weight peers

Pediatr Obes. 2021 Feb;16(2):e12708. doi: 10.1111/ijpo.12708. Epub 2020 Aug 16.


Background: Physical activity (PA) is beneficial for cognitive and brain health during preadolescence. Given that childhood obesity (OB) is a public health concern, investigating this effect in children with OB is an important societal consideration.

Objectives: To identify the effects of weight status and PA on neuroelectric indices of executive function in preadolescence.

Methods: Children were randomly assigned to a PA intervention or a wait-list control group and completed a task that manipulated inhibitory control, while task performance and neuroelectric (P3 component) outcomes were assessed. About 103 children with OB were matched to a sample of 103 normal weight (NW) children based on treatment allocation and demographic variables.

Results: Children with OB in the control group demonstrated reduced P3 amplitude from pre- to post-test, meanwhile those with OB in the PA intervention maintained P3 amplitude at post-test compared to pre-test. Additionally, NW children in the PA intervention group showed that decreased visceral adipose tissue corresponded with faster task performance, a relationship not observed in children with OB.

Conclusions: These results suggest that a 9-month PA intervention may be particularly beneficial to the cognitive and brain health of children with OB. These results are important to consider given the public health concerns associated with childhood OB.

Keywords: brain function; cognitive function; obesity; physical activity.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Cognition*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Executive Function*
  • Exercise / psychology
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Female
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pediatric Obesity / psychology
  • Pediatric Obesity / therapy*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Treatment Outcome