The relation of saturated fats and dietary cholesterol to childhood cognitive flexibility

Naiman A. Khan, Lauren B. Raine, Eric S. Drollette, Mark R. Scudder, Charles H. Hillman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Identification of health behaviors and markers of physiological health associated with childhood cognitive function has important implications for public health policy targeted toward cognitive health throughout the life span. Although previous studies have shown that aerobic fitness and obesity exert contrasting effects on cognitive flexibility among prepubertal children, the extent to which diet plays a role in cognitive flexibility has received little attention. Accordingly, this study examined associations between saturated fats and cholesterol intake and cognitive flexibility, assessed using a task switching paradigm, among prepubertal children between 7 and 10 years (N = 150). Following adjustment of confounding variables (age, sex, socioeconomic status, IQ, VO2max, and BMI), children consuming diets higher in saturated fats exhibited longer reaction time during the task condition requiring greater amounts of cognitive flexibility. Further, increasing saturated fat intake and dietary cholesterol were correlated with greater switch costs, reflecting impaired ability to maintain multiple task sets in working memory and poorer efficiency of cognitive control processes involved in task switching. These data are among the first to indicate that children consuming diets higher in saturated fats and cholesterol exhibit compromised ability to flexibly modulate their cognitive operations, particularly when faced with greater cognitive challenge. Future longitudinal and intervention studies are necessary to comprehensively characterize the interrelationships between diet, aerobic fitness, obesity, and children's cognitive abilities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)51-56
Number of pages6
StatePublished - Oct 1 2015


  • Aerobic fitness
  • Children
  • Cognitive flexibility
  • Diet
  • Obesity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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