Inflammation, Executive Function, and Adiposity in Children With or at Risk for Obesity: A Pilot Study.

Academic Article


  • OBJECTIVE: Obesity is associated with executive function (EF) deficits across the lifespan. Higher body mass index (BMI), obesity severity, and poorer adherence and weight outcomes in obesity treatment have all been associated with EF deficits. Adult literature has begun to emphasize neuroinflammation in obesity as a possible pathway to later cognitive impairment in EF. However, pediatric obesity literature has yet to establish associations between peripheral inflammation and EF. Thus, the present study examined associations and variability in inflammation, EF, and adiposity in children with or at risk for obesity. Additionally, inflammation was examined as a mediator of the relationship between adiposity and EF. METHODS: Children (N = 39) aged 8-12 years with BMI ≥ 50th percentile were recruited. The NIH Toolbox Cognitive Battery was used to assess performance-based EF. Peripheral inflammation was assessed in fasted sera. Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry scans were conducted to assess body composition. Linear regression and Hayes' PROCESS Model 4 (Hayes, 2017) were used to evaluate associations between adiposity and inflammation, inflammation and EF, and whether adiposity effects EF through its effect on inflammation. RESULTS: Positive associations were identified between adiposity and inflammation, and negative to null associations were identified between inflammation and EF. Medium indirect effects of adiposity on EF through inflammation were detected. CONCLUSION: Pilot evidence suggests greater adiposity is linked with greater inflammation, which in turn is associated with less EF in some domains. Directionality and causality cannot yet be established, but with replication, findings may inform efforts to target EF in pediatric obesity.
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  • executive function, inflammation, pediatric obesity, pediatric psychology, psychoneuroimmunology
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    Author List

  • King KP; Keller CV; Evans CT; Murdaugh DL; Gower BA; Gowey MA