Normal weight children have higher cognitive performance – Independent of physical activity, sleep, and diet

Mads F. Hjorth, Louise B. Sørensen, Rikke Andersen, Camilla B. Dyssegaard, Christian Ritz, Inge Tetens, Kim F. Michaelsen, Arne Astrup, Niels Egelund, Anders Sjödin

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Background/objectives Aside from the health consequences, observational studies indicate that being overweight may also negatively affect cognitive function. However, existing evidence has to a large extent not controlled for the possible confounding effect of having different lifestyles. Therefore, the objective was to examine the independent associations between weight status and lifestyle indicators with cognitive performance in 8–11 year old Danish children. Subjects/methods The analyses included 828 children (measured in 2011–2012) each having one to three measurement occasions separated by approximately 100 days. Dietary intake, physical activity, sedentary time, and sleep duration were measured using dietary records and accelerometers. The Children's Sleep Habits Questionnaire was used to access sleep problems and the Andersen test was carried out to estimate cardio-respiratory fitness (CRF). Weight status (underweight, normal weight, and overweight/obese) was defined according to body mass index and cognitive performance was assessed using the d2-test of attention, a reading test, and a math test. A linear mixed model including a number of fixed and random effects was used to test associations between lifestyle indicators as well as BMI category and cognitive performance. Results After adjustment for demographics, socioeconomics, and multiple lifestyle indicators, normal weight children had higher cognitive test scores than overweight/obese and underweight children of up to 89% and 48% of expected learning within one school year (P < 0.05). Daily breakfast consumption, fewer sleep problems, higher CRF, less total physical activity, more sedentary time, and less light physical activity were associated with higher cognitive performance independently of each other in at least one of the three cognitive tests (P < 0.05). Conclusions Normal weight children had higher cognitive performance compared to overweight/obese as well as underweight children, independent of multiple lifestyle indicators.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPhysiology & Behavior
Pages (from-to)398-404
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Philosophy
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Behavior
  • Cognitive performance
  • Diet
  • Overweight
  • Physical activity
  • Sleep


Dive into the research topics of 'Normal weight children have higher cognitive performance – Independent of physical activity, sleep, and diet'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this