The Journal of Physiological Sciences

, Volume 68, Issue 4, pp 321–331 | Cite as

Obesity and episodic memory function

  • Paul D. LoprinziEmail author
  • Emily Frith


Obesity-related lifestyle factors, such as physical activity behavior and dietary intake, have been shown to be associated with episodic memory function. From animal work, there is considerable biological plausibility linking obesity with worse memory function. There are no published systematic reviews evaluating the effects of obesity on episodic memory function among humans, and examining whether physical activity and diet influences this obesity–memory link. Thus, the purpose of this systematic review was to evaluate the totality of research examining whether obesity is associated with episodic memory function, and whether physical activity and dietary behavior confounds this relationship. A review approach was employed, using PubMed, PsychInfo, and Sports Discus databases. Fourteen studies met our criteria. Among these 14 reviewed studies, eight were cross-sectional, four were prospective, and two employed a randomized controlled experimental design. Twelve of the 14 studies did not take into consideration dietary behavior in their analysis, and similarly, nine of the 14 studies did not take into consideration participant physical activity behavior. Among the 14 studies, ten found an inverse association of weight status on memory function, but for one of these studies, this association was attenuated after controlling for physical activity. Among the 14 evaluated studies, four did not find a direct effect of weight status on memory. Among the four null studies, one, however, found an indirect effect of BMI on episodic memory and another found a moderation effect of BMI and age on memory function. It appears that obesity may be associated with worse memory function, with the underlying mechanisms discussed herein. At this point, it is uncertain whether adiposity, itself, is influencing memory changes, or rather, whether adiposity-related lifestyle behaviors (e.g., physical inactivity and diet) are driving the obesity–memory relationship.


Adiposity BMI Cognition Diet Exercise Physical activity 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Author PL declares no conflicts of interest. Author EF declares no conflicts of interest.

Research involving human participants

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

No consent was needed as this is a review paper.


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© The Physiological Society of Japan and Springer Japan KK, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Exercise Psychology Laboratory, Physical Activity Epidemiology Laboratory, Department of Health, Exercise Science and Recreation ManagementThe University of MississippiUniversityUSA

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