Childhood obesity affects math performance in school, as well as social skills and wellbeing, according to new research from the University of Missouri.
Researchers looked at data from over 6,000 children enrolled in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort, which gathered information from children beginning in kindergarten and followed them through the fifth grade.
On five different occasions, parents gave feedback regarding family dynamics, and teachers also reported on the children’s social skills and emotional wellbeing. Researchers then administered academic tests to the children and measured their height and weight.
Results showed that children who were obese throughout the study period had lower math scores in the first through fifth grades than children who were not obese.
“Obesity that persists across the elementary school years has the potential to compromise several areas of children’s development, including their social and emotional wellbeing and academic performance,” said Sara Gable, associate professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri and lead author of the study.
Not only did obesity affect math performance, but overweight children also reported feeling sadder, lonelier and more anxious than kids of more average weights. Researchers said this negative emotional state could be contributing to the poor math performances.
Although weight may indeed add to poor school performance, there is likely a variety of factors that also contribute to an obese child’s overall wellbeing, experts said.
“Obesity does not prevent kids from doing math, but obesity develops in families where there may be less oversight, less education, fewer resources,” said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale Prevention Center.
Although obesity has been tied to poor school performance in past research, this study looks at the connection between the timing of obesity onset and factors such as behavior, relationships and academic performance.
The research strives to fill in the blank space that connects the weight dot to the academic performance dot, said Katz.
Although it is hard to determine whether obesity actually affects cognition, “we certainly can say that obesity affects everything from self-esteem to social standing to mood and even hormonal balance, so the likelihood that there would be a whole cascade of effects between weight and math test scores is very high,” said Katz.
The study is published in the journal Child Development.
Source: University of Missouri