Obesity May Affect Teens’ Mental Abilities

    An unhappy overweight teenage boy standing in a kitchenAs the childhood obesity epidemic continues in the United States, more kids are developing an array of heart risk factors linked to obesity known as the “metabolic syndrome.”

    Now, a study suggests that these obesity-linked changes may be affecting kids’ minds as well as their bodies.

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    The study of 110 American teenagers found those with metabolic syndrome — a combination of obesity, pre-diabetes, high blood pressure, high triglycerides and low levels of good HDL cholesterol — scored lower on math and spelling tests and shorter attention spans than their metabolically healthier classmates. They also had smaller hippocampi — brain areas involved in learning and memory — according to brain imaging.

    “Lower cognitive performance and reductions in brain structural integrity among adolescents with metabolic syndrome [suggests] that even relatively short-term impairment in metabolism, in the absence of vascular disease, may give rise to brain complications,” the study authors wrote.

    The results, published today in the journal Pediatrics, could have worrisome implications for American children and adolescents, one in 12 of whom has metabolic syndrome.

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