Obesity and Neurocognitive Performance of Memory, Attention, and Executive Function

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Abstract: Background: Obesity has been linked to an increased risk of dementia in the future. Obesity
is known to affect core neural structures, such as the hippocampus, and frontotemporal parts of the
brain, and is linked to memory, attention, and executive function decline. The overwhelming majority
of the data, however, comes from high-income countries. In undeveloped countries, there is little
evidence of a link between obesity and neurocognition. The aim of this study was to investigate the
effects of BMI on the key cognitive functioning tasks of attention, memory, and executive function
in a South African cohort. Methods: A total of 175 females (NW: BMI = 18.5–24.9 kg/m2 and OB:
BMI > 30.0 kg/m2

) aged 18–59 years (M = 28, SD = 8.87 years) completed tasks on memory, attention,
and executive functioning. Results: There was a statistically significant difference between the groups.
The participants who had a BMI corresponding with obesity performed poorly on the tasks measuring

memory (p = 0.01), attention (p = 0.01), and executive function (p = 0.02) compared to the normal-
weight group. Conclusions: When compared to normal-weight participants, the findings confirm the

existence of lowered cognitive performance in obese persons on tasks involving planning, decision
making, self-control, and regulation. Further research into the potential underlying mechanism by
which obesity impacts cognition is indicated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)376
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • body mass index
  • brain function
  • cognition
  • developing context
  • neuropsychological tests
  • obesity


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