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Obesity and the effects on learning

Understanding how obesity affects the brain.
obesity stock
(Hmmm. 23 +14 = 43??)

As you’ve probably noticed looking around and from numerous articles of studies on the subject, our population is becoming more obese. 

I’m not going to give you the lecture of all the effects of what it does to your body because you’ve heard it a thousand times.

So today I’d like to touch on how obesity affects the brain.  I’ve come across some really astounding information that I thought should be shared.  We need to understand what it is doing to our children. 

And as parents and guardians of our future planet, we’ve put them in a situation that will not allow them to excel.   Here’s why…

According to the WHO (World Health Organization), 31.5% of children in Canada aged 5 -17 years are classified as overweight or obese. 

Excess weight in children has been linked to insulin resistance Type-2 Diabetes, hypertension, bone and joint problems, including flat feet, sleep apnea, asthma, gallstones, polycystic ovarian syndrome (1), poor emotional health and diminished social wellbeing. Okay, now here’s where it gets interesting.

Not only is obesity a health issue for our young generation, but it also has serious consequences for learning.

Yes, learning.  Pretty scary, right?

According to a new study (2), overweight people have 4% less brain tissue than people of normal weight, and obese people have 8% less brain tissue than people of normal weight. These results are serious for children who are obese. According to the author of the study, just a 4% loss represents, "severe" brain degeneration.

Wait, there’s more!

In a study of over 12,000 children, Tobin (2013) found that that the frequent consumption of fast food (multiple times per week) was significantly related to a decrease in test scores in math and reading, and as the student consumed more fast food, the test scores continued to decrease. Students who had a higher than average intake of fast food had between 5% and 16% percent lower reading test scores and between 6% and 18% lower math test scores.

Children who were obese in this study also demonstrated shorter attention spans and decreased mental flexibility and tended to have lower estimated intellectual functioning,

There are four areas of the brain reported to be effected by obesity:

  • Frontal and temporal lobes: Critical for planning and memory
  • Anterior cingulate gyrus: Responsible for attention and executive functions
  • Hippocampus: Important for long-term memory
  • Basal ganglia: Essential for proper movement and coordination

This is extremely serious, because in obese people:

  • Loss of brain tissue results in less brain utilization resulting in a lower IQ
  • There is a loss in the ability to regulate attention so a child at school is not able to remain focused long enough to absorb any information, so less learning is taking place
  • Long-term memory is impaired so there is limited retention of what they do manage to learn;
  • And because loss of brain tissue impairs coordination and agility, the child is now also clumsy, increasing the risk of injury.  This is because the basal ganglia are all clogged up causing this impairment.

These are some scary stats, and it is essential that we are very aware of the effects of allowing our children to have highly processed foods and sugar laden treats and drinks.  This also bears true to adults as well.  The only difference is we are the keepers of our children and supposed to be safeguarding them in every aspect. 

We have the right to make our own decisions as adults knowing the outcomes and consequences that may prevail.  It’s our body, our mind; we’ll do as we please. However, by empowering this behaviour in our kids, we’ve given them our blessing to become sick and ignorant by no fault of their own. 

We aren’t showing love by doing this; we’re setting them up for failure.  Not only do you set them up for all the health issues and learning problems, you’re setting them up for social and self-esteem issues.

Our children will cherish our love and hugs far beyond our years rather than any bag of candy or fast food burger.

Keep them well.

References (1) Ebbeling et al., 2002 (2) Brain structure and obesity. - Raji CA1, Ho AJ, Parikshak NN, Becker JT, Lopez OL, Kuller LH, Hua X, Leow AD, Toga AW, Thompson PM. PubMed – US National Library of Medicine