Sleep Health and Psychopathology Mediate Executive Deficits in Pediatric Obesity

Alaina L. Pearce, Eleanor MacKey, Evan P. Nadler, Chandan J. Vaidya

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Objective: Executive and motivational dysfunction have been associated with pediatric obesity. Poor sleep quality and psychopathology, often comorbid with obesity, are also associated with executive and motivational dysfunction. We examined the contribution of these comorbid factors to the association between obesity and executive function and reward-related decision-making. Methods: Seven- to 18-year-old children with and without obesity performed a working memory task with low and high loads, a response inhibition task, and a probabilistic reward-related decision-making task. Parents filled out standardized measures of executive function in everyday behavior, sleep health, and psychiatric symptoms. Analyses controlled for age, gender, IQ, and parental education. Results: Children with obesity showed worse working memory performance under higher load (p = 0.007), and worse parent-reported behavioral regulation (p = 0.05) and metacognition (p = 0.04) in everyday behavior and their reward-related decision-making was less consistent with learned probabilistic conditions (p = 0.04). Response inhibition did not differ between groups. Children with obesity had worse parent-reported sleep health (p < 0.01) and 4.27 greater odds of clinically relevant internalizing symptomology (p = 0.03), both of which mediated the effect of obesity on behavioral regulation (p's < 0.01) and metacognition (p's < 0.01). Performance-based assessments were not associated with sleep health or psychopathology. Conclusions: Sleep quality and internalizing psychopathology were worse in children with obesity and contributed to parent-reported executive dysfunction in their everyday behavior. Performance-based measures of working memory and decision-making were not associated with those comorbidities of obesity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)189-196
Number of pages8
JournalChildhood Obesity
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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