Author(s): CR Figley, JSA Asem, EL Levenbaum, and SM Courtney
Frontiers in Neuroscience 10(234) 1-23
It is well established that obesity decreases overall life expectancy and increases the risk of several adverse health conditions. Mounting evidence indicates that body fat is likely also associated with structural and functional brain changes, reduced cognitive function, and greater impulsivity. However, previously reported differences in brain structure and function have been variable across studies and difficult to reconcile due to sample population and methodological differences. To clarify these issues, we correlated two independent measures of body composition-i.e., body mass index (BMI) and body fat percent (BFP)-with structural and functional neuroimaging data obtained from a cohort of 32 neurologically healthy adults. Whole-brain voxel-wise analyses indicated that higher BMI and BFP were associated with widespread decreases in gray matter volume, white matter volume, and white matter microstructure (including several regions, such as the striatum and orbitofrontal cortex, which may influence value assessment, habit formation, and decision-making). Moreover, closer examination of resting state functional connectivity, white matter volume, and white matter microstructure throughout the default mode network (DMN), executive control network (ECN), and salience network (SN) revealed that higher BMI and BFP were associated with increased SN functional connectivity and decreased white matter volumes throughout all three networks (i.e., the DMN, ECN, and SN). Taken together, these findings: (1) offer a biologically plausible explanation for reduced cognitive performance, greater impulsivity, and altered reward processing among overweight individuals, and (2) suggest neurobiological mechanisms (i.e., altered functional and structural brain connectivity) that may affect overweight individuals’ ability to establish and maintain healthy lifestyle choices.