The association between body mass index and brain morphology in children: a population-based study

Cathelijne Steegers, Elisabet Blok, Sander Lamballais, Vincent Jaddoe, Fabio Bernardoni, Meike Vernooij, Jan van der Ende, Manon Hillegers, Nadia Micali, Stefan Ehrlich, Pauline Jansen, Gwen Dieleman, Tonya White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Brain morphology is altered in both anorexia nervosa and obesity. However, it is yet unclear if the relationship between Body Mass Index-Standard Deviation Score (BMI-SDS) and brain morphology exists across the BMI-SDS spectrum, or is present only in the extremes. The study involved 3160 9-to-11 year-old children (50.3% female) who participate in Generation R, a population-based study. Structural MRI scans were obtained from all children and FreeSurfer was used to quantify both global and surface-based measures of gyrification and cortical thickness. Body length and weight were measured to calculate BMI. Dutch growth curves were used to calculate BMI-SDS. BMI-SDS was analyzed continuously and in two categories (median split). The relationship between BMI-SDS (range − 3.82 to 3.31) and gyrification showed an inverted-U shape curve in children with both lower and higher BMI-SDS values having lower gyrification in widespread areas of the brain. BMI-SDS had a positive linear association with cortical thickness in multiple brain regions. This study provides evidence for an association between BMI-SDS and brain morphology in a large sample of children from the general population and suggests that a normal BMI during childhood is important for brain development. Future studies could determine whether lifestyle modifications optimize BMI-SDS result in return to more typical patterns of brain morphology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)787-800
Number of pages14
JournalBrain Structure and Function
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • BMI
  • Brain development
  • Cortical folding
  • Cortical thickness
  • Gyrification


Dive into the research topics of 'The association between body mass index and brain morphology in children: a population-based study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this