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Overweight Children Have Slower Mental Reaction Time

Hispanic boy looking at classroom globe
Photograph by Getty Images/Blend Images

We've all heard the overused and slightly unbelievable saying "You are what you eat," but researchers are finding that this could in fact be true. According to a new study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, what your children eat could be holding them back in school because of impaired brain function.

Researchers from the Universities of Michigan State, Illinois, Georgia and Texas tested a group of boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 9. Half of the kids had high Body Mass Indexes (BMI). Simple cognitive tests revealed that, of the children, the overweight kids had an 8 percent slower reaction time to the first test and a 15 percent slower time on the second test.

More surprisingly, "data from brain monitors suggested that this was because of underdeveloped cognitive processing in the prefrontal cortex (PFC)—which governs rational thought—and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC)—which allows people to learn from mistakes." If overweight kids got a wrong answer, they subsequently took more time to answer the next question.

Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, says: "We already know that children who lack exercise are less able to concentrate and perform in class." However, this new research could bring the conversation of obesity to a new level, as the findings suggest that obesity could actually be slowing cognitive development, not just making kids tired and distracted.

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