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Obesity and IQ in Children: the Mind-Body Connection

Child Reading for I.Q.

The Developing Brain

A child’s brain begins to develop in the womb and it continues to evolve throughout childhood and adolescence, not completing development until around age 25. During those critical years, many things can impact brain development, including nutrition and physical activity. As the body of research on cognitive development grows, it is becoming increasingly clear that obesity in childhood impacts cognitive function and academic performance.

Physical Activity and Cognition

Vigorous physical activity is fundamental to good health, including brain health. In a 2010 study, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that physical fitness promoted a larger hippocampus in nine and 10 year olds. The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for spatial reasoning, learning, memory and other cognitive tasks. The study was interesting because it used children’s VO2 as a marker for physical fitness, indicating that oxygen delivery is essential to optimal brain function.

Nutrition and Cognition

Some studies focus on the role of nutrition in obesity and cognition. Findings suggest that consumption of a western diet high in sugar and saturated fat can lead to impaired cognitive function in children, and may eventually lead to adult cognitive decline and early onset of Alzheimer’s Disease. According to a 2015 study by Beilharz, et al, the hippocampus is particularly sensitive to dietary effects, affecting memory in both children and adults.

Room for Improvement

Like obesity itself, the relationship between fitness, nutrition and cognition is complicated, and solutions are elusive. Some interventions focus on dietary supplementation and reduced sugar and fat consumption. Others suggest behavior interventions such as mindfulness training can be useful in promoting impulse control. Consistent vigorous physical activity can serve to reduce insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, both associated with cognition, while providing more oxygen to the brain.


Our children are the future, and W.I.T.S. is dedicated to preserving health and wellness for generations to come. As a Certified W.I.T.S. professional, you have the credentials and the knowledge to make a profound impact on future generations. Get started today with a Certification in Personal Training, Lifestyle Fitness Coaching or Youth Fitness. Follow up with continuing education in topics like Nutritional Concepts, Exercise Program Design for Special Populations, Youth Fitness Foundations and Youth Fitness Practical Review. You are the future of fitness. Be sure to get your Digital Badge to show the world that you are ready to take on the challenge of obesity and its impact on human health.


Beilharz, et al, (2015). Diet-induced cognitive deficits: the role of fat and sugar, potential mechanisms and nutritional interventions. Nutrients, 7(8), 6719-6738.

Liang, J, et al (2014). Neurocognitive correlates of obesity and obesity-related behaviors in children and adolescents. International Journal of Obesity, 38(4), 494-506.

Lu, S (2016). Obesity and the growing brain. Monitor of Psychology, 47(6), 40.

Tandon, PS, et al (2016). The relationship between physical activity and diet and young children’s cognitive development: A systematic review. Preventive Medicine Reports, 3, 379-390.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (2010, September 16). Children’s brain development is linked to physical fitness, research finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 30, 2016 from

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