Physical activity, diet and other behavioural interventions for improving cognition and school achievement in children and adolescents with obesity or overweight

Martin A, et al.


Childhood and adolescent obesity is high and continues to increase globally, and some evidence suggests that overweight and obesity may affect cognitive skills and school performance. The aim of this review was to find out if healthy weight interventions can improve thinking skills (executive function) and school performance in children and teenagers with obesity. The researchers ultimately included 18 studies of 2384 school-aged children and adolescents with obesity or overweight from 10 countries, mostly in primary/elementary school. Interventions varied greatly; some delivered physical activity interventions, some combined it with healthy lifestyle education, and a few studies delivered dietary interventions. Based on higher-quality studies, they found that physical activity interventions can lead to small improvements in problem-solving skills (cognitive executive function scores). Lower-quality studies did not show a positive effect of physical activity interventions on mathematics, reading, or general school achievement. And replacing packed school lunch with a nutrient-rich diet plus nutrition education did not improve academic achievement. However, the quality of evidence for this was also low. The authors conclude that despite a large number of trials, they were only able to partially assess the impact of obesity treatment interventions on school achievement and cognitive abilities. School physical activity interventions as part of an obesity prevention or treatment programme can benefit executive functions of children with obesity or overweight specifically. Future obesity treatment and prevention studies in clinical, school and community settings should consider assessing academic and cognitive as well as physical outcomes.

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