As childhood obesity has dramatically increased in the U.S., so has the prevalence of metabolic syndrome – a constellation of health problems including insulin resistance, hypertension, and cholesterol profile abnormalities.
In adults, metabolic syndrome has been linked to cognitive problems, and now a study has documented even more extensive brain impairments in adolescents with metabolic syndrome. The study, “Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome and Functional and Structural Brain Impairments in Adolescence,” published in the October 2012 issue of Pediatrics (published online Sept. 3), compared 49 adolescents with metabolic syndrome to 62 teens without the disorder matched on socioeconomic factors. Those with metabolic syndrome had significantly lower arithmetic, spelling, attention and mental flexibility. They also had significant reductions in hippocampal volumes and white matter integrity.
Study authors conclude that obesity-associated metabolic dysregulation, short of diabetes, may also cause brain complications during adolescence. They suggest brain function should be included when considering early treatment for childhood obesity. Future research is needed to determine whether the reductions in cognitive performance and structural brain abnormalities are reversible with significant weight loss.