Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Children's Health

Font Size

Can Childhood Obesity Hinder the Brain?

Reading, Math Worse in Kids With Many Obesity-Related Risk Factors
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 4, 2012 -- A new study shows that children who are overweight or obese may face problems with brain development, especially if they have risk factors for metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of problems that set the stage for diabetes and heart disease.

The risks for metabolic syndrome include:

Researcher Antonio Convit, MD, says the bottom line is, "We are seeing brain changes in kids with metabolic syndrome and we don't know if this is reversible."

Children with metabolic syndrome scored 10% lower on mental tasks that are important for learning, he says. The findings appear in Pediatrics.

What to Do?

In the new study, obese or overweight teens with metabolic syndrome could not read as well, scored worse on math tests, and took longer to complete tasks than children who did not have metabolic syndrome. What's more, their brains also had physical differences.

The new study included 49 teens with metabolic syndrome and 62 without it. The more metabolic syndrome risks that participants had, the more pronounced the brain changes were, the study shows.

Convit calls for testing for insulin resistance among at-risk children, particularly those who are very overweight and those who have a family history of diabetes or heart disease.

Other solutions include having physical education programs in school. "We should invest more in physical education so kids are fitter and less likely to have insulin resistance, which is the main driver of these brain changes."

Insulin Resistance Affects Brain

Insulin is a hormone that helps the body turn sugar into energy. Insulin resistance occurs when the body does not use insulin properly.

Michele Mietus-Snyder, MD, says the new findings should serve as a wake-up call.

"Every cell in every organ system requires energy to live and insulin is the gatekeeper," she says. "Insulin resistance has reached beyond the traditional organ systems to the brain."

"We need to be very vigilant when children start to gain belly fat because we don't want children to fall behind the metabolic eight ball." If that occurs, it becomes a catch-22. "How can you expect someone to make healthy choices when they are [mentally] impaired?"

Scott Kahan, MD, MPH, is the director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness in Washington, D.C. "Metabolic syndrome was unheard of in kids until recently," he says. "It is striking that a significant number of kids have metabolic syndrome, but the fact that we can show further consequences in the brain is even more striking."

Today on WebMD

child with red rash on cheeks
What’s that rash?
plate of fruit and veggies
How healthy is your child’s diet?
smiling baby
Treating diarrhea, fever and more.
Middle school band practice
Understanding your child’s changing body.

worried kid
jennifer aniston
Measles virus
sick child

Child with adhd
rl with friends
Syringes and graph illustration