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Smaller subcortical volume relates to greater weight gain in girls with initially healthy weight.

Obesity 2024 May 7
OBJECTIVE: Among 3614 youth who were 9 to 12 years old and initially did not have overweight or obesity (12% [n = 385] developed overweight or obesity), we examined the natural progression of weight gain and brain structure development during a 2-year period with a high risk for obesity (e.g., pre- and early adolescence) to determine the following: 1) whether variation in maturational trajectories of the brain regions contributes to weight gain; and/or 2) whether weight gain contributes to altered brain development.

METHODS: Data were gathered from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study. Linear mixed-effects regression models controlled for puberty, caregiver education, handedness, and intracranial volume (random effects: magnetic resonance scanner [MRI] scanner and participant). Because pubertal development occurs earlier in girls, analyses were stratified by sex.

RESULTS: For girls, but not boys, independent of puberty, greater increases in BMI were driven by smaller volumes over time in the bilateral accumbens, amygdala, hippocampus, and thalamus, right caudate and ventral diencephalon, and left pallidum (all p < 0.05).

CONCLUSIONS: The results suggest a potential phenotype for identifying obesity risk because underlying differences among regions involved in food intake were related to greater weight gain in girls, but not in boys. Importantly, 2 years of weight gain may not be sufficient to alter brain development, highlighting early puberty as a critical time to prevent negative neurological outcomes.

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