This study tested whether participation in organized physical activity (active vs. inactive) or weight status (normal weight vs. overweight or obese) independently relate to children’s cognition, using a matched-pairs design.
Design and Methods:
Normal weight, active children (8–11 yrs, 5th-75th percentile BMI) were recruited from extracurricular physical activity programs while normal weight inactive (5th-75th percentile BMI) and overweight inactive children (BMI ≥85th percentile) were recruited from local Augusta, Georgia area schools. Measures included the Cognitive Assessment System, anthropometrics, and parent- and self-report of physical activity. Paired t tests compared cognition scores between matched groups of normal weight active vs. normal weight inactive (N = 24 pairs), normal weight inactive vs. overweight inactive (N = 21 pairs), and normal weight active vs. overweight inactive children (N = 16 pairs). Children in each comparison were matched for race, gender, age, and socioeconomic status.
Normal weight active children had higher Planning (M± SD = 109 ± 11 vs. 100 ± 11, p = .011) and Attention scores (108 ± 11 vs. 100 ± 11, p = .013) than overweight inactive children. Normal weight inactive children had higher Attention scores than overweight inactive children (105 ± 13 vs. 93 ± 12, p = .008). When compared with normal weight inactive children, normal weight active children had higher Planning (113 ± 10 vs. 102 ± 13, p = .008) and marginally higher Attention scores (111 ± 11 vs. 104 ± 12, p = .06).
Findings suggest independent associations of children’s weight status with selective attention, and physical activity with higher-order processes of executive function.