Obesity and unhealthy lifestyle associated with poor executive function among Malaysian adolescents

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The understanding on the roles of obesity and lifestyle behaviors in predicting executive function of adolescents has been limited. Low executive function proficiency may have adverse effects on adolescents’ school academic performance. This cross-sectional study aimed to examine the relationship between BMI-for-age and multiple lifestyle behaviors (operationalized as meal consumption, physical activity, and sleep quality) with executive function (operationalized as inhibition, working memory, and cognitive flexibility) on a sample of Malaysian adolescents aged between 12 and 16 years (N = 513). Participants were recruited from two randomly selected schools in the state of Selangor in Malaysia. Using a self-administered questionnaire, parent participants provided information concerning their sociodemographic data, whereas adolescent participants provided information regarding their meal consumptions, physical activity, and sleep quality. The modified Harvard step test was used to assess adolescents’ aerobic fitness, while Stroop color-word, digit span, and trail-making tests were used to assess adolescents’ inhibition, working memory, and cognitive flexibility, respectively. Three separate hierarchical regression analyses were conducted for each outcome namely, inhibition, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. After adjusted for sociodemographic factors and BMI-for-age, differential predictors of inhibition and working memory were found. Habitual sleep efficiency significantly and positively predicted inhibition. Regular dinner intakes, physical activity levels, and sleep quality significantly and positively predicted working memory. Household income emerged as a consistent predictor for all executive function domains. In conclusion, an increased trend of obesity and unhealthy lifestyles among adolescents were found to be associated with poorer executive function. Regular dinner intakes, higher physical activity levels and better sleep quality predicted better executive function despite the inverse relationship between obesity and executive function. Future studies may explore how lifestyle modifications can optimize the development of executive function in adolescents as well as relieve the burden of obesity.




Hui Tee, J. Y., Gan, W. Y., Tan, K. A., & Chin, Y. S. (2018). Obesity and unhealthy lifestyle associated with poor executive function among Malaysian adolescents. PLoS ONE, 13(4). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0195934

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