The Relationship Between a Western Diet and the Hippocampus: An Investigation in Children and Adolescents

Jill M Stadterman, Fordham University


A “western diet” (WD) is a dietary pattern characterized by increased consumption of high-fat meats, dairy, processed food and refined grain products (Cordain et al., 2005). A WD is thought to underlie many modern diseases, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes (Cordain et al., 2005); there is also evidence that a WD impacts the brain, and the hippocampus specifically. For example, prior animal work has shown that a WD stunts neurogenesis in the hippocampus (Molteni et al., 2002) and increases permeability of hippocampal blood-brain barrier (Kanoski et al., 2010). In humans, both diet and BMI have been linked to decreased hippocampal volume (Jacka et al., 2015; Mestre et al., 2017). This study aimed to further prior work in two ways: first, by investigating the relationship between a WD and hippocampal volume in a large sample of children and adolescents (N = 190), and second, to investigate intrinsic functional connectivity (iFC) of the hippocampus in relation to a WD. Participants were drawn from a large open-source neuroimaging project (Healthy Brain Network). Diet was measured using the Block Kids Food Screener (BKBS; NutritionQuest). Participants also completed an MRI scanning session, in which a high-resolution anatomical image was collected for volume analyses and a functional resting state scan was collected for iFC analyses. Multiple regression analyses did not show a relationship between diet and hippocampal volume. However, diet was related to decreased iFC of the hippocampus and a small region of the motor cortex. Overall, although this study failed to replicate prior findings of a relationship between a WD and hippocampal volume, it is the first to demonstrate an association between diet and iFC. Future work can aim to clarify discrepancies in volume findings across studies as well as continue to explore the impact of diet on iFC and on brain functioning more generally.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Stadterman, Jill M, "The Relationship Between a Western Diet and the Hippocampus: An Investigation in Children and Adolescents" (2019). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI13904415.