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Independent Associations of Organized Physical Activity and Weight Status with Children’s Cognitive Functioning: A Matched-Pairs Design

Catherine L. Davis, Joseph P. Tkacz, Phillip D. Tomporowski, and Eduardo E. Bustamante


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.

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Exercise and Academic Performance Among Children With Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Disruptive Behavior Disorders: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Jared D. Ramer, María E. Santiago-Rodríguez, Catherine L. Davis, David X. Marquez, Stacy L. Frazier, and Eduardo E. Bustamante

Purpose: To examine effects of a 10-week after-school physical activity (PA) program on academic performance of 6- to 12-year-old African American children with behavior problems. Methods: Participants were randomized to PA (n = 19) or sedentary attention control (n = 16) programs. Academic records, curriculum-based measures, and classroom observations were obtained at baseline, postintervention, and/or follow-up. Mixed models tested group × time interactions on academic records and curriculum-based measures. One-way analysis of variance or Kruskal–Wallis tested for differences in postintervention classroom observations. Results: Intent-to-treat analyses demonstrated a moderate effect within groups from baseline to postintervention on disciplinary referrals (PA: d = −0.47; attention control: d = −0.36) and a null moderate effect on academic assessments (PA: d = 0.11 to 0.36; attention control: d = 0.05 to 0.40). No significant group × time interactions emerged on direct academic assessments (all Ps ≥ .05, d = −0.23 to 0.26) or academic records (all Ps ≥ .05, d = −0.28 to 0.16). Classroom observations revealed that intervention participants were off-task due to moving at twice the rate of comparative classmates (F = 15.74, P < .001) and were off-task due to talking 33% more often (F = 1.39, P = .257). Conclusion: Academic outcome improvements were small within and between groups and did not sustain at follow-up. Academic benefits of after-school PA programs for children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and/or disruptive behavior disorders were smaller than neurobiological, behavioral, and cognitive outcomes as previously reported.