Several Studies Link Childhood Obesity to Low Grades

A recent series of at least six studies has linked childhood obesity to poor grades.

According to researcher Anne Martin, the effects of obesity are great enough to cause a drop in grades, and the research shows that girls are at a greater risk for the effects than boys.

The reasons for the drop in academic success are not completely known, but there is believed to be a link between obesity and being “written off” by teachers, as well as a more slowly developing brains in obese children.

There is also thought that diabetes and sleep problems brought on from obesity are causing students to miss more school days than the average healthy child.

And for girls especially, bullying may play a part, as girls are more susceptible to the emotional effects and psychological scarring related to being bullied.

The studies showed that children who were obese, or became obese, did progressively worse in math over the course of time.  The effects were not instantaneous, as children who were obese in elementary school did not suffer in their grades until reaching the high school level.

Obese girls who were studied, on average, dropped an entire grade level.

Martin said the study is important, as poor grades in high school effect a student’s chances of getting into college, as well as finding a job.

A separate study from Sweden published in Demography, shows that on average, obese teenage men earn around 18% less than a healthy-weight teenager in the workplace.  According to the study, this is true of obese teenagers, but not of healthy weight teens who grew up to gain extra pounds.

Previously, this was thought to only affect women.

The authors compared the loss of money among Swedish obese teenagers to that of people who shaved three years of school off their education. “To put this figure in perspective, the estimated return to an additional year of schooling in Sweden is about six percent,” the authors said. “The obesity penalty thus corresponds to almost three years of schooling, which is equivalent to a university bachelor’s degree.”

The study also discovered similar patterns in teenage men in both the US and the UK.

The researchers believe that overweight teenagers are more likely to have problems with self-esteem and face more discrimination by peers and teachers, but more research is needed.

One positive note to mention is that those students who were obese and then became a healthy weight actually ended up performing better in math than those students who were healthy to begin with.

Martin suggests teachers discuss the effects of obesity with their students to help them get back on track.

And just what is the best way to become healthy after being obese?  According to the Healthy Eating Aerobic and Resistance Training in Youth (HEALTHY) study, a combination of aerobic exercise and resistance training.

The study took 304 overweight teenagers between 14 and 18 years of age, and gave them the same 4 weeks of diet counseling.  The teens were then placed in one of four groups: one performed resistance training, the second only aerobic exercise, the third used a combination, and the fourth did not exercise at all.

Of the first and second groups, participants lost an average of 4” off their waist, while the third group lost about 7”.  The fourth group did not lose any inches.

It is hoped that the studies will help create a strategy to combat childhood obesity.  Of those who are obese as children, 80% will continue on to be obese adults, facing diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

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