Obesity Affects Math Performance In School
June 15, 2012

Obesity Affects Math Performance In School

Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com

New research has found that obesity is linked to many health problems and, based on a recent study, affects performance in math studies as well.

The project was a collaborative effort among the University of Missouri, Columbia (UM); the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); and the University of Vermont. Sara Gable, a researcher and an associate professor at the UM Department of Nutrition and Exercise, looked at 6,250 children from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort. The cohort is a nationally representative sample and, in the study, they were followed between kindergarten and fifth grade for data purposes. Five times during that period, parents reported information on their families, teachers provided descriptions of the child´s emotional well-being and interpersonal skills, and children were given an academic test as well as weighed and measured.

"The findings illustrate the complexity of relations among children's weight status, social and emotional well-being, academics, and time," remarked Gable, an associate professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri, Columbia, in a prepared statement.

In the study´s results, when students who showed symptoms of obesity beginning in kindergarten were compared with children who were never obese, these students performed poorer on math tests beginning in the first grade. The low performance on math exams persisted all the way through fifth grade. For boys whose obesity began later, like in third or fifth grade, there was no difference found in the performance on math tests. For girls who were found to become obese later on, the low performance in math was short-term.

Furthermore, girls who were consistently obese appeared to have fewer social skills and this deficiency seemed to affect their math performance. For those boys and girls who were consistently obese, they had more anxiety and appeared to be sadder and lonelier; these traits also affected their performance on math tests. Other factors may be involved as well; for example, children who are obese may miss more school days or may develop sleep apnea which could influence school performance.

"Our study suggests that obesity in the early years of school, especially obesity that persists across the elementary grades, can harm children's social and emotional well-being and academic performance," explained Gable in the statement.

Overall, the study did not find a direct cause-and-effect relationship between school performance and being overweight or obese. The project´s findings, published in a recent edition of the journal Child Development, show the necessity of combating childhood obesity. According to U.S. News, public health professionals believe that parents can help children establish better habits. It is also important for the whole family to develop better diet and exercise routines.

More information on helping children maintain a healthy weight can be found on the CDC website.

"Obesity isn't just a cosmetic problem," Nancy Copperman, director of public health initiatives at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, New York, told U.S. News. "It has impacts that go from chronic disease to mental achievement, and ultimately to income and a happy, successful, well-adjusted life."