GAINESVILLE, Fla. - University of Florida researchers have discovered a link between morbid obesity in toddlers and lower IQ scores, cognitive delays and brain lesions similar to those seen in Alzheimer's disease patients, a new study shows.
Although the cause of these cognitive impairments is still unknown, UF researchers suspect the metabolic disturbances obesity causes could be taking a toll on young brains, which are still developing and not fully protected, they write in an article published in the Journal of Pediatrics this month.
"It's well-known that obesity is associated with a number of other medical problems, such as diabetes, hypertension and elevated cholesterol," said Daniel J. Driscoll, M.D., Ph.D., a UF professor of pediatrics and molecular genetics and microbiology in the College of Medicine and the lead author of the study. "Now, we're postulating that early-onset morbid obesity and these metabolic, biochemical problems can also lead to cognitive impairment."
Researchers compared 18 children and adults with early-onset morbid obesity, which means they weighed at least 150 percent of their ideal body weight before they were 4, with 19 children and adults with Prader-Willi syndrome, and with 24 of their normal-weight siblings. Researchers chose lean siblings as a control group "because they share a socioeconomic group and genetic background," Driscoll said.
The links between cognitive impairments and Prader-Willi syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes people to eat nonstop and become morbidly obese at a very young age if not supervised, are well-established. But researchers were surprised to find that children and adults who had become obese as toddlers for no known genetic reason fared almost as poorly on IQ and achievement tests as Prader-Willi patients. Prader-Willi patients had an average IQ of 63 and patients with early-onset morbid obesity had an average of 78. The control group of siblings had an averag
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