BACKGROUND: Evidence suggests that lifestyle interventions can benefit cognitive function and school achievement in children of normal weight. Similar beneficial effects may be seen in overweight or obese children and adolescents.

  • OBJECTIVES: To determine whether lifestyle interventions (in the areas of diet, physical activity, sedentary behaviour and behavioural therapy) improve school achievement, cognitive function and future success in overweight or obese children and adolescents compared with standard care, waiting list control, no treatment or attention control.
  • SEARCH METHODS: We searched a number of databases to identify randomised and controlled clinical trials of lifestyle interventions for weight management in overweight or obese children three to 18 years of age.
  • MAIN RESULTS: We included in the review six studies (14 articles) of 674 overweight and obese children and adolescents, comprising four studies with multicomponent lifestyle interventions and two studies with physical activity only interventions. Single component physical activity interventions produced small improvements in mathematics achievement. No evidence suggested an effect of any lifestyle intervention on reading, vocabulary and language achievements, attention, inhibitory control and simultaneous processing. Pooling of data in meta-analyses was restricted by variations in study design. No study provided evidence of the effect of lifestyle interventions on future success. Whether changes in academic and cognitive abilities were connected to changes in body weight status was unclear because of conflicting findings and variations in study design.
  • AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Despite the large number of childhood obesity treatment trials, evidence regarding their impact on school achievement and cognitive abilities is lacking. Existing studies have a range of methodological issues affecting the quality of evidence. Multicomponent interventions targeting physical activity and healthy diet could benefit general school achievement, whereas a physical activity intervention delivered for childhood weight management could benefit mathematics achievement, executive function and working memory. Although the effects are small, a very large number of children and adolescents could benefit from these interventions. Therefore health policy makers may wish to consider these potential additional benefits when promoting physical activity and healthy eating in schools. Future obesity treatment trials are needed to examine overweight or obese children and adolescents and to report academic and cognitive as well as physical outcomes.

Martin A, Saunders DH, Shenkin SD, Sproule J. Lifestyle intervention for improving school achievement in overweight or obese children and adolescents. Cochrane Database Syst Rev2014;14(3):CD009728

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