In a new study, researchers found that severely overweight people are less likely to be able to re-wire their brains and find new neural pathways.
They found that brain plasticity is impaired in obese people, making it less likely that they can learn new tasks or remember things.
The discovery has significant implications for people recovering from a stroke or brain injury.
The research was conducted by a team from UniSA and Deakin University.
Obesity is based on body mass index (BMI) which calculates the ratio between height and weight to determine body fat.
An adult who has a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight. Anything above that is obese.
Using a series of experiments involving transcranial magnetic stimulation, the researchers tested 15 obese people aged between 18 and 60, comparing them with 15 people in a healthy-weight control group.
Repeated pulses of electrical stimulation were applied to the brain to see how strongly it responded.
The healthy-weight control group recorded significant neural activity in response to the stimulation, suggesting a normal brain plasticity response.
In contrast, the response in the obese group was minimal, suggesting its capacity to change was impaired.
The findings provide the first physiological evidence of a link between obesity and reduced brain plasticity.
The team says obesity is already associated with a raft of adverse health effects, including a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders and dementia.
This study showed that obesity was linked to impaired brain function, adding further support for the need to address the obesity epidemic.
One author of the study is UniSA researcher Dr. Brenton Hordacre.
The study is published in Brain Sciences.
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