Early executive control and risk for overweight and obesity in elementary school

Timothy D. Nelson, Tiffany D. James, Maren Hankey, Jennifer Mize Nelson, Alyssa Lundahl, Kimberly Andrews Espy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


An emerging literature suggests that poor executive control (EC) may be associated with clinical weight problems, e.g., body mass index (BMI) for age percentile ≥85 in children. However, our understanding of the impact of EC on overweight and obesity in childhood is limited by the lack of longitudinal studies spanning critical developmental periods and assessing EC using comprehensive performance-based batteries. The current study addresses these limitations in a longitudinal examination of 212 children who completed an extensive laboratory-based EC task battery in preschool (age 4 years and 6 months) and were followed through elementary school (Grades 1 through 4) with objective measures of weight status. The logistic regression results indicate that poorer EC in preschool is associated with significantly greater risk for clinical weight problems (either overweight or obese status, as defined by BMI-for-age percentile ≥ 85) in elementary school, controlling for maternal education. EC in preschool was not significantly associated with risk for obese status, specifically (defined by BMI-for-age percentile ≥ 95), but the trend was in the expected direction. The results suggest that early executive abilities are relevant for children’s subsequent health status, with deficits in EC in the critical period of preschool conferring risk for later problems with weight. Based on these findings, early interventions to promote stronger EC may be a promising, yet currently overlooked, component in pediatric obesity prevention efforts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)994-1002
Number of pages9
JournalChild Neuropsychology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 17 2017


  • Elementary school
  • Executive control
  • Pediatric obesity
  • Pediatric overweight
  • Preschool

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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