Obesity hardly needs to be linked to any more health problems, but University of Florida (UF) researchers say they have now discovered a link between obesity in toddlers and lower IQ scores. The UF researchers suspect the metabolic disturbances obesity causes could be taking a toll on young brains, which are still developing. Although the cause of these cognitive impairments is still unknown, brain lesions similar to those seen in Alzheimer's disease patients have been noted in the brains of morbidly obese infants.
Writing in the Journal of Pediatrics, the researchers say they observed that toddlers with early-onset morbid obesity had an average IQ of 78, while the control group of siblings had an average IQ of 106, which falls within the range of what is considered normal intelligence.
"It was surprising to find that they had an average IQ score of 78, whereas their control siblings were 106," UF researcher Daniel J. Driscoll said. "We feel this may be another complication of obesity that may not be reversible, so it's very important to watch what children eat even from a very young age. It's not just setting them up for problems later on, it could affect their learning potential now."
Worryingly, MRI scans of early-onset morbidly obese infants revealed white-matter lesions on their brains. Such lesions are typically found on the brains of adults who have developed Alzheimer's disease or in children with untreated phenylketonuria. While these lesions could be affecting food-seeking centers of the brain, causing the children to feel hungrier, the researchers speculate that they are most likely a result of metabolic changes that damage the young brain.
The researchers said that more studies were needed to understand what is causing the cognitive impairments. Driscoll also emphasized that adults or children who become obese later in childhood are not at-risk for these cognitive impairments because their brains are sufficiently developed to fend off damage from obesity.
Source: University of Florida