A "constellation" of health problems linked to obesity can impair the brains of adolescents, lowering test scores and hindering efforts to learn, according to research just published in the journal Pediatrics.
That cluster of health issues related to obesity, called metabolic syndrome or MetS, includes symptoms related to development of heart disease and diabetes, such as high blood pressure, low levels of "good" cholesterol, high triglycerides, a large waistline and insulin resistance. The teens who have the syndrome do worse in school than other peers who are of normal weight, the study found. Metabolic syndrome incidence, they noted, has become more prevalent in tandem with an increase in obesity. And the researchers said the findings may indicate heavy teens could face lower academic and professional success.
The study examined 49 adolescents with the syndrome compared to 62 without it, matching them on age, socioeconomic status, school grades, gender and ethnicity. Among other things, they looked at blood tests, magnetic resonance imaging of the brain and neuropsychological evaluations. A release explaining the study said the researchers wanted to "ensure things like cultural differences in diet and access to quality health care did not cloud the data."
Reasearchers found that those with metabolic syndrome "showed significantly lower arithmetic, spelling, attention and mental flexibility and a trend for lower overall intelligence."
The findings suggest, the authors wrote, that "even relatively short-term impairments in metabolism, in the absence of clinically manifest vascular disease, may give rise to brain complications. In view of these alarming results, it is plausible that obesity-associated metabolic disease, short of type 2 diabetes mellitus, may be mechanically linked to lower the academic and professional potential of adolescents."