Obesity is not just bad for your body. It can interfere with attention and mental abilities, particularly among the young, whose brains are still developing. That's the message from a new study of children with and without metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome refers to a group of conditions that are associated with obesity. Its symptoms usually include a mix of abnormalities in weight, high-density lipoproteins (HDL), triglycerides, blood pressure and glucose metabolism. People with metabolic syndrome have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes and their complications.
Structural and functional abnormalities of the brain occur when components of the metabolic syndrome are present even before diabetes develops, painting a concerning picture of the burden placed on developing children simply by being seriously overweight.
The risk of metabolic syndrome generally increases with age, but in the US the epidemic of childhood obesity has produced a young generation who already has this syndrome. A 2006 study showed a prevalence of 8.6% in U.S. children and teens.
The more of the metabolic syndrome criteria subjects met, the worse their scores on achievement tests; subjects with less pronounced, or fewer metabolic syndrome criteria, had better scores.
Imaging tests revealed that the children with metabolic syndrome showed reductions in the size of their hippocampus, a brain structure connected with memory, and an excess of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), also indicating an overall reduction in brain volume.
The authors conclude that, “Although obesity may not be enough to stir clinicians or even parents into action, these results among youth with metabolic syndrome strongly argue for an early and comprehensive intervention. This is further evidence that obesity in children and teens requires early and aggressive attention to prevent lifelong complications that start as early as childhood and adolescence.
The study is published in the journal, Pediatrics.