Cognitive disinhibition and infrequent moderate-to-intense physical activity linked with obesity in U.S. soldiers



To explore the relationship between body weight status and neurocognitive functioning in soldiers.


U.S. soldiers (N = 109) answered survey questions and completed neurocognitive tests including simple reaction time, code substitution, procedural reaction time, go–no–go, matching to sample, code substitution recall, and four versions of the Stroop test including congruent (color and meaning of word agreed); incongruent (color and meaning of word differed); neutral (nonsense words appeared), and emotional (combat-related words such as “I.E.D” and “convoy” appeared). Self-reported heights and weights were used to calculate BMI. A BMI ≥ 30.00 kg/m2 was categorized as obese. Multivariate analysis of variance was used to analyze weight status differences (p ≤ 0.05) across neurocognitive variables. Binomial logistic regression analysis with obesity as the dependent variable was used to ascertain the contributions (p ≤ 0.05) of exercise and the neurocognitive measures that differed based on weight status.


Twenty-nine participants (26.6%) were obese. The obese group had significantly lower scores on code substitution, and both neutral and emotional Stroop tasks. Only Stroop emotional scores, p = 0.022, OR = 0.97, and frequency of moderate/intense physical activity, p = 0.009, OR = 0.10, were significant predictors of weight status.


Obesity was associated with less frequent moderate/intense physical activity and compromised executive functioning, namely decrements in response inhibition. Given the design and sample size, additional research is needed to better understand the direction of the relationship between these variables and to inform research related to the treatment and prevention of obesity within military populations.

Level of evidence

Level III, case-control analytic study.

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Data availability

The dataset analyzed during the current study is available in the ResearchGate repository at


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We would like to thank the military leadership and the soldiers for their support and participation.


Funding for this project was provided by the Kansas State University Research Foundation and the Herbert D. and Nylda Gemple Award, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Neither funding sources had any involvement in study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; and in the decision to submit the article for publication.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jennifer A. Hanson.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


Material has been reviewed by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. There is no objection to its presentation and/or publication. The opinions or assertions contained herein are the private views of the author, and are not to be construed as official, or as reflecting true views of the Department of the Army or the Department of Defense. The investigators have adhered to the policies for protection of human subjects as prescribed in AR 70-25.

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The work has been approved by and performed according to the ethical standards of the Committee on Research Involving Human Subjects, Institutional Review Board, at Kanas State University.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on Exercise and Eating and Weight Disorders.

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Hanson, J.A., Wagner, G. & Dretsch, M. Cognitive disinhibition and infrequent moderate-to-intense physical activity linked with obesity in U.S. soldiers. Eat Weight Disord (2020).

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  • Obesity
  • Stroop
  • Executive function
  • Inhibition
  • Military
  • Physical activity