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Journal of Obesity
Volume 2013 (2013), Article ID 820956, 10 pages
Review Article

The Relationship between Executive Function and Obesity in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Literature Review

1Medical Student at the Medical University of South Carolina, 169 Ashley Avenue, Charleston, SC 29403, USA
2Department of Pediatrics, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, 2146 Belcourt Avenue, 2nd Floor, Nashville, TN 37212, USA
3Diabetes Research and Training Center, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, 1211 Medical Center Drive, Nashville, TN 37212, USA

Received 15 November 2012; Revised 7 January 2013; Accepted 21 January 2013

Academic Editor: Ajay K. Gupta

Copyright © 2013 Kaela R. S. Reinert et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The objective of this paper is to examine the relationship between the development of executive function (EF) and obesity in children and adolescents. We reviewed 1,065 unique abstracts: 31 from PubMed, 87 from Google Scholar, 16 from Science Direct, and 931 from PsycINFO. Of those abstracts, 28 met inclusion criteria and were reviewed. From the articles reviewed, an additional 3 articles were added from article references ( ). Twenty-three studies pertained to EF (2 also studied the prefrontal and orbitofrontal cortices (OFCs); 6 also studied cognitive function), five studied the relationship between obesity and prefrontal and orbitofrontal cortices, and three evaluated cognitive function and obesity. Inhibitory control was most often studied in both childhood (76.9%) and adolescent (72.7%) studies, and obese children performed significantly worse ( ) than healthy weight controls on various tasks measuring this EF domain. Although 27.3% of adolescent studies measured mental flexibility, no childhood studies examined this EF domain. Adolescents with higher BMI had a strong association with neurostructural deficits evident in the OFC. Future research should be longitudinal and use a uniform method of EF measurement to better establish causality between EF and obesity and consequently direct future intervention strategies.