A worrisome new study in the journal Pediatrics has found that teens with metabolic syndrome (MetS)* have something in common with adults suffering from the same disease: They, too, can have brain deficiencies and cognitive difficulties.
When a group of 49 New York teens with MetS was compared with 64 normal-weight kids, the MetS teens had lower scores on tests of mental ability, arithmetic, and reading. In addition, MRIs showed that the typical MetS teen had a smaller hippocampus than his or her normal classmates–that’s the part of the brain that deals with memory formation and storage. Such changes in adults had been thought to be the result of long-term metabolic disease; the discovery of similar changes in teens was unexpected, and scary.
Are these changes permanent? Does the brain recover if a teen loses significant weight and reverses his or her metabolic syndrome? No one knows for certain as yet, but this study adds a bit more urgency to the fight against childhood obesity. As Dr. Antonio Convit writes in the study’s conclusion:
“Although obesity [alone] may not be enough to stir clinicians or even parents into action, these results in adolescents strongly argue for an early and comprehensive intervention. We propose that brain function be introduced among the parameters that need to be evaluated when considering early treatment of childhood obesity.”
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* Metabolic syndrome is defined by the American Heart Association as the combination of high blood sugar, elevated blood triglycerides, reduced “good” cholesterol, abdominal obesity, and high blood pressure.
Photo by Dierk Schaefer