cognitive performance may increase after weight-loss interventions,” Kaltenhauser notes. “The ongoing ABCD study will collect data from its participants for several more years, which will allow us to further track these changes over time.”
Dr. Vincent Mathews says the new study helps to connect some dots between excess weight and brain changes in kids. “Prior research has shown that obesity is associated with poorer academic performance, impaired cognitive function, and lower brain volume in children,” according to Mathews, chairman of radiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
“This study shows changes in brain function and the integrity of white matter tracts related to childhood obesity, which potentially explain the impaired cognitive function and its effect on academic performance,” Mathews adds.
Some questions remain, he says. “It isn’t clear whether obesity precedes brain function impairment or if the latter precedes the development of obesity at this time,” Mathews stresses.
Dr. Scott Kahan, director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness in Washington, D.C., says that most of the data on how obesity affects brain health is in adults. “This study adds to the literature base in kids,” he notes.
More research is needed to see if carrying excess weight directly impacts the brain, or if an unhealthy diet and/or lack of physical inactivity are the culprits, or whether factors that predispose people to obesity, such as lower socioeconomic status, also contribute to poor brain development, Kahan says.
RELATED: How Parents Can Take Charge of Childhood Obesity
How you can help your child
There is no one solution to address obesity, but as a parent, you can help your child maintain a healthy weight and set up lifelong healthy habits at home by doing the following, according to the CDC:
Model a Healthy Eating Pattern
Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are often less expensive than fresh and still good for you.
Look for low-sodium or no salt added vegetables and fruits packed in 100% fruit juice.
Adopting healthy eating patterns as a family will help your child reach and maintain a healthy weight as they age. Eating a variety of