The majority of pediatric research supports a link between lower EF and increased obesity risk, yet findings are mixed regarding associations with EI. Most research has focused on self- and parent-reports of children’s EF and EI and has not examined effects by age or sex. We therefore used objective methods to evaluate diverse dimensions of EF and EI and examined how age and sex moderated EF-EI associations.
152 children (M age = 12.7±2.7y, range 8-17y; 53.9% female; 43.4% non-Hispanic white, 34.9% non-Hispanic black; 34.9% overweight) completed cognitive tasks assessing cognitive flexibility, decision-making, working memory, delayed gratification (for money and food), and behavioral disinhibition. EI was evaluated using a multi-item lunch buffet paradigm (~10,000 kcal). Analyses adjusted for demographics, height, fat and lean mass (via DXA), depressive symptoms, and intelligence quotient.
Participants with less cognitive flexibility consumed more fat (p = .03) and less carbohydrates (p = .03). Poorer decision-making (p = .04) and lower working memory (p = .004) were associated with greater fat intake in children (6-12y), but not older adolescents (13-17y). In children only, working memory performance was inversely associated with saturated fat intake (p = .03), but positively associated with carbohydrate (p =.004) and sugar intake (p =.04). In boys (p =.003), but not girls, those with poorer working memory consumed more saturated fat. Poorer delayed gratification for money was associated with greater saturated fat intake in girls (p = .01), but not boys. Behavioral disinhibition was positively associated with total EI among boys only (p = .04).
Both sex and age moderated how EF, a diverse construct capturing a range of cognitive functions, related to EI. Larger, prospective studies are needed to confirm these sex-associated differences and understand whether and how the associations between EF and EI change over time.