Obesity Can Impact Students’ Academic Performance, Study Says

By Julie Rasicot — June 15, 2012 1 min read
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The national epidemic of obesity in children and youth is a hot topic these days, highlighted by first lady Michelle Obama’s efforts to get kids to be more active and eat more healthy food. Now a new study raises the issue of how obesity can affect children’s academic performance in the early grades.

The study by Sara Gable, an associate professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri, has found that kids who were obese from kindergarten through 5th grade did worse on math tests than kids who weren’t overweight during those years, according to a university press release.

Gable studied more than 6,250 kids involved in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which is a a federal study examining child development, school readiness, and early school experiences. The kids were monitored over the years, including through academic testing, evaluations of social and emotional well-being and being weighed and measured at five separate times.

Gable found that lower performance on math tests began in 1st grade and continued through 5th grade for obese kids. The impact of obesity on a kid’s emotional state—creating feelings of sadness, loneliness, and anxiousness—helped explain the differences in performance between children who were obese and those of normal weight, the study found.

“Our study suggests that childhood obesity, especially obesity that persists throughout the elementary grades, can harm children’s social and emotional well-being and academic performance,” Gable said.

The study was published in the journal Child Development. For my colleague Bryan Toporek’s take on this research, check out the Schooled in Sports blog.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.