Overweight/Obesity-related microstructural alterations of the fimbria-fornix in the ABCD study: The role of aerobic physical activity

Jiyoung Ma, Erin C. McGlade, Rebekah S. Huber, In Kyoon Lyoo, Perry F. Renshaw, Deborah A. Yurgelun-Todd

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Childhood overweight/obesity has been associated with negative consequences related to brain function and may involve alterations in white matter pathways important for cognitive and emotional processing. Aerobic physical activity is a promising lifestyle factor that could restore white matter alterations. However, little is known about either regional white matter alterations in children with overweight/obesity or the effects of aerobic physical activity targeting the obesity-related brain alterations in children. Using a large-scale cross-sectional population-based dataset of US children aged 9 to 10 years (n = 8019), this study explored the associations between overweight/obesity and microstructure of limbic white matter tracts, and examined whether aerobic physical activity may reduce the overweight/obesity-related white matter alterations in children. The primary outcome measure was restriction spectrum imaging (RSI)-derived white matter microstructural integrity measures. The number of days in a week that children engaged in aerobic physical activity for at least 60 minutes per day was assessed. We found that females with overweight/obesity had lower measures of integrity of the fimbria-fornix, a major limbic-hippocampal white matter tract, than their lean peers, while this difference was not significant in males. We also found a positive relationship between the number of days of aerobic physical activity completed in a week and integrity measures of the fimbria-fornix in females with overweight/obesity. Our results provide cross-sectional evidence of sex-specific microstructural alteration in the fimbria-fornix in children with overweight/obesity and suggest that aerobic physical activity may play a role in reducing this alteration. Future work should examine the causal direction of the relationship between childhood overweight/obesity and brain alterations and evaluate potential interventions to validate the effects of aerobic physical activity on this relationship.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0287682
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7 July
StatePublished - Jul 2023

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