Visceral Adipose Tissue is Negatively and Selectively Associated with Cognition among Obese Children

Presenter: Tatsuya Shigeta

Research Category: Interdisciplinary Topics, Centers and Institutes
Student Type: null
PI: Tatsuya Shigeta, Charles Hillman

Although adulthood obesity is a recognized risk factor for cognitive dysfunction, the relation of excess adiposity on childhood cognition remains controversial. Particularly, visceral adipose tissue (VAT) is a metabolically active pathogenic tissue implicated mechanistically in inflammation, insulin resistance, and dyslipidemia. However, the influence of VAT on children’s cognition remains understudied. Thus, the aim of the present investigation was to evaluate the differential impact of adiposity, particularly VAT, on cognitive function among obese and healthy weight children.

Obese children completed tests from the Woodcock Johnson Tests of Cognitive Abilities. Healthy weight children were matched to the obese children on demographic characteristics and aerobic fitness. Adiposity (i.e., whole body percent fat (%Fat), subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAAT), and VAT) was assessed using dual energy X-ray absorptiometry.

Analyses revealed that %Fat and SAAT were not related to cognitive function in obese children. However, among obese children, VAT was a significant negative predictor of cognitive function, such that increased VAT correlated with poorer intellectual abilities and performance on two out of three cognitive performance clusters: thinking ability and cognitive efficiency). In healthy children, however, adiposity was not associated with intellectual abilities or any cognitive performance.

Results suggest a selective negative relation of VAT, rather than SAAT/%Fat, with cognitive function among obese children. These findings have important implications for children’s physical and mental health given many health complications stemming from obesity. VAT’s dangerous metabolic nature paired with its detriment on obese children’s intellectual and cognitive functioning raises additional public health concerns of childhood obesity.