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Research Project: Impact of Maternal Influence and Early Dietary Factors on Child Growth, Development, and Metabolic Health

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Title: Effect of obesity on arithmetic processing in preteens with high and low math skills. An event-related potentials study

item ALATORRE-CRUZ, GRACIELA C. - University Arkansas For Medical Sciences (UAMS)
item DOWNS, HEATHER - Arkansas Children'S Nutrition Research Center (ACNC)
item HAGOOD, HAGOOD - Arkansas Children'S Nutrition Research Center (ACNC)
item SORENSEN, SETH - Arkansas Children'S Nutrition Research Center (ACNC)
item WILLIAMS, D. KEITH - Arkansas Children'S Nutrition Research Center (ACNC)
item LARSON-PRIOR, LINDA - Arkansas Children'S Nutrition Research Center (ACNC)

Submitted to: Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/7/2022
Publication Date: 3/10/2022
Citation: Alatorre-Cruz, G., Downs, H., Hagood, H., Sorensen, S.T., Williams, D., Larson-Prior, L. 2022. Effect of obesity on arithmetic processing in preteens with high and low math skills. An event-related potentials study. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Interpretive Summary: The paper analyzed the differences between obese and non-obese children in the brain response associated with the arithmetic problem-solving process. Our findings suggest that weight status affects cognitive processes needed for math processing regardless of math skill level, mainly affecting the brain mechanism which supports attentional resources.

Technical Abstract: Preadolescence is an important period for the consolidation of certain arithmetic facts, and the development of problem-solving strategies. Obese subjects seem to have poorer academic performance in math than their normal-weight peers, suggesting a negative effect of obesity on math skills in critical developmental periods. To test this hypothesis, event-related potentials (ERPs) were collected during a delayed-verification math task using simple addition and subtraction problems in obese (above 95th body mass index (BMI) percentile) and non-obese (between 5th and 90th BMI percentile) preteens with different levels of math skill; thirty-one with low math skills (14 obese, mean BMI = 26.40, 9.79 years old; 17 non-obese, BMI = 17.45, 9.76 years old) and thirty-one with high math skills (15 obese, BMI = 26.90, 9.60 years old; 16 non-obese, BMI = 17.13, 9.63 years old). No significant differences between weight groups were observed in task accuracy regardless of their mathematical skill level. For ERPs, electrophysiological differences were found only in the subtraction condition; participants with obesity showed an electrophysiologic pattern associated with a reduced ability to allocate attention resources regardless of their math skill level, these differences were characterized by longer P300 latency than their normal-weight peers. Moreover, the participants with obesity with high math skills displayed hypoactivity in left superior parietal lobule compared with their normal-weight peers. Additionally, obese preteens with low math skills displayed smaller arithmetic N400 amplitude than non-obese participants, reflecting difficulties in retrieving visual, semantic, and lexical information about numbers. We conclude that participants with obesity are less able than their normal-weight peers to deploy their attention regardless of their behavioral performance, which seems to have a greater effect on obese participants with low math skills because they also show problems in the retrieval of solutions from working memory, resulting in a delay in the development of mathematical skills.