Cognitive control in preadolescent children with risk factors for metabolic syndrome

Mark R. Scudder, Naiman A. Khan, Kate Lambourne, Eric S. Drollette, Stephen D. Herrmann, Jessica L. Betts, Richard A. Washburn, Joseph E. Donnelly, Charles H. Hillman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: To investigate the relationship between cognitive control and metabolic syndrome (MetS) risk factors in preadolescent children while controlling for aerobic fitness and weight status. Methods: Hierarchical regression analyses were conducted using aerobic fitness, demographic, and MetS risk-factor variables in a sample of 2nd- and 3rd-grade children (n=139) who performed a modified version of a flanker task to assess cognitive control. Flanker performance was also compared between children that met no MetS risk-factor criteria (n = 70), and children who met 1 criterion or more (n = 69). Results: Regression analyses indicated that after controlling for demographic variables and fitness, HDL cholesterol exhibited an independent negative association with flanker reaction time (RT). Group comparisons further revealed that children with no risk factors demonstrated overall shorter RT than the at-risk group. In addition, at-risk children exhibited larger accuracy-interference scores (i.e., poorer performance) for the more difficult conditions of the flanker task that required the up-regulation of cognitive control to meet elevated task demands. Conclusions: These findings are consonant with the previous literature reporting a beneficial influence of aerobic fitness on cognitive control, and reveal new evidence that children without risk factors for MetS exhibit better inhibitory control and increased cognitive flexibility than do at-risk children. In addition to aerobic fitness, these risk factors may serve as important biomarkers for understanding the potential cognitive implications of MetS risk in younger generations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)243-252
Number of pages10
JournalHealth Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2015


  • Aerobic fitness
  • Cognitive flexibility
  • Flanker
  • HDL
  • Inhibitory control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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