A review of the association between obesity and cognitive function across the lifespan

Implications for novel approaches to prevention and treatment

E. Smith*, P. Hay, L. Campbell, J. N. Trollor

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

347 Citations (Scopus)


Recent research suggests that increased adiposity is associated with poor cognitive performance, independently of associated medical conditions. The evidence regarding this relationship is examined in this review article. A relatively consistent finding across the lifespan is that obesity is associated with cognitive deficits, especially in executive function, in children, adolescents and adults. However, as illustrated by contradictory studies, the relationship between obesity and cognition is uncertain in the elderly, partly because of inaccuracy of body mass index as a measure of adiposity as body composition changes with aging. This review further discusses whether obesity is a cause or a consequence of these cognitive deficits, acknowledging the possible bidirectional relationship. The possible effects of increased adiposity on the brain are summarized. Our investigations suggest that weight gain results, at least in part, from a neurological predisposition characterized by reduced executive function, and in turn obesity itself has a compounding negative impact on the brain via mechanisms currently attributed to low-grade systemic inflammation, elevated lipids and/or insulin resistance. The possible role of cognitive remediation treatment strategies to prevent and/or treat obesity is discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)740-755
Number of pages16
JournalObesity Reviews
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Adiposity
  • Body mass index
  • Cognition
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Obesity

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