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“Obesity and the Growing Brain” by Stacy Lu


In this article, Lu (2016) argues that, in children, an unhealthy diet and body fat could potentially affect brain function, which ultimately leads to cognitive problems. According to the author, consuming foods rich in saturated fat and sugar could cause changes in children’s brains that impair their impulse control mechanism, and this aspect makes it difficult for them to resist the temptation of overeating. As such, such children are likely to become obese, which is a risk factor for many lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes, depression, and cancer, among other related health conditions. Additionally, the article indicates that based on the available literature and research findings, childhood obesity is closely associated with mental health problems later in life, including Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Lu (2016) argues that the available evidence points to the possibility that dysfunctions in the brain could be the cause of obesity, as opposed to being an effect.

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Main body

Obese children have various impairments affecting executive function, such as weak working memory and attention deficiency together with poor decision-making capacity and mental inflexibility. The article indicates that brain-imaging studies have collaborated the claim that obesity and unhealthy diet lead to structural changes in the brain. In addition, correlational studies have shown that both obesity and metabolic syndrome are strongly associated with poor academic performance, reduced hippocampal volume, and less white matter among other related aspects that affect the executive function in children.

In a study to find out the extent that diet as opposed to obesity, contributes to brain-function impairment, psychologists from the University of Illinois found that the majority of children taking diets high in saturated fats performed poorly on tasks involving relational memory and hippocampus, irrespective of their average body mass indexes (BMIs). On the other hand, the same team of researchers found that consuming a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids increased relational memory skills (Lu, 2016). These findings indicate that a poor diet is more likely to affect brain function in children as compared to obesity. However, poor diet and obesity are closely associated, which implies that they are both risk factors in memory inadequacies in children.

The strong positive correlation between obesity and poor executive function in children works to ensure that the affected individuals are trapped in a cycle whereby they are not in a position to make informed decisions. For instance, overweight children have reduced inhibitory control, and thus they might not resist the urge to indulge in unhealthy eating habits, which means they are stuck in obesity. In other words, such children might not resist gratification, which is a bad attribute for the development of executive function needed for academic excellence. The exact mechanism through which obesity and poor diet affect brain function is under study with the available evidence indicating that foods high in refined sugar and saturated fats affect the hippocampus by weakening the blood-brain barrier (BBB).


The author uses a variety of research articles to support the claims made in this paper. For instance, peer-reviewed studies from reputable journals, such as The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Neuroscience, and International Journal of Obesity are cited in this article to support the presented data. In other words, the author uses scientific data to present arguments as opposed to personal opinion and anecdotes. In addition, the references used are current, having been published within five years before 2016 when this article was written.


Lu, S. (2016). Obesity and the growing brain: Body fat and an unhealthy diet may impair brain function and lead to cognitive problems in children. American Psychological Association, 47(6). Web.

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