A recent study has reportedly documented “lower cognitive performance and reductions in brain structural integrity” among adolescents with metabolic syndrome (MeTS), “thus suggesting that even relatively short-term impairments in metabolism, in the absence of clinically manifest vascular disease, may give rise to brain complications.” Po Lai Yau, et al., “Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome and Functional and Structural Brain Impairments in Adolescence,” Pediatrics, October 2012. Researchers with the New York University School of Medicine and the Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research apparently conducted cognitive testing on 111 adolescents with and without MeTS, concluding that those with metabolic syndrome “showed significantly lower arithmetic, spelling, attention, and mental flexibility and a trend for lower overall intelligence.” In addition, MRIs of the participants reportedly showed, “in a MeTS-dose—related fashion, smaller hippocampal volumes, increased brain cerebrospinal fluid, and reductions of microstructural integrity in major white matter tracts.”

According to the report, these “alarming” findings imply that obesity-related metabolic disease “may be mechanistically linked to lower the academic and professional potential of adolescents.” The study’s authors have thus urged further research to determine whether the observed effects are reversible. “Although obesity may not be enough to stir clinicians or even parents into action, these results among youth with MeTS strongly argue for an early and comprehensive intervention,” they concluded. “We propose that brain function be introduced among the parameters that need to be evaluated when considering early treatment of childhood obesity.”