Obese Children Might Become Poorer Students as Teens

Childhood obesity associated with poor academic performance during teenage years

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Childhood obesity can negatively affect a person's physical and mental health throughout life. It's possible that the condition might even be a barrier to academic and career success.   

A recent study found that childhood obesity was associated with poor academic performance for teenage girls.

According to the authors of this study, parents, educators and public health policymakers need to be aware of the negative impact of obesity on academic performance for children and teenagers.

"Discuss your child's academic performance with their teacher."

The lead author of this study was Josephine N. Booth, PhD, from the School of Psychology at the University of Dundee in Dundee, United Kingdom.

The study included data on 5,966 11-year-olds who participated in an on-going study called the UK Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children.

All participants of the study by Dr. Booth and team were born between April 1, 1991 and December 31, 1992 in Avon County in England. Fifty-four percent of the participants were female.

None of the participants had any psychiatric diagnoses or learning disabilities that would have negatively affected their academic performance.

The researchers assessed the participants' academic ability with national standardized tests at enrollment at age 11 and then again at ages 13 and 16 years.

Participants' weight was measured at 11 years old and 16 years old.

The findings showed that 72 percent of the participants were of healthy weight, 13 percent were overweight and 15 percent were obese at age 11.

By 16 years of age, 68 percent of the participants had stayed a healthy weight, and 16 percent had remained overweight or obese. Another 5 percent had become overweight after being a healthy weight at 11 years old, 1 percent had become obese after being a healthy weight, and 2 percent had become obese after being overweight at 11 years old. The last 8 percent had become a healthy weight after being overweight or obese at age 11.

The researchers found that the association between weight and academic performance was unclear for the boys.

The girls who were stably obese or overweight from 11 to 16 years old had lower academic performances at each age compared to the girls who were of healthy weight from ages 11 to 16 — even after adjusting for factors such as IQ, mental health and age of first menstrual period.

Likewise, the girls who went from being overweight at age 11 to obese at age 16 had poorer academic performances at each age compared to the girls who were of healthy weight from ages 11 to 16.

The findings revealed that being obese at 11 years old was associated with getting a grade lower at 16 years old (i.e. those getting a 'C' at 11 had a 'D' by 16 years old) in this study population.

There were not any significant associations between poor academic performance and either gaining or losing weight between ages 11 and 16 years old.

Dr. Booth and team concluded that further research on the association between cognition (basic mental function), obesity and poor academic performance is needed.

These researchers noted a few limitations of their study. First, these findings do not apply to children and teenagers with learning disabilities or other learning barriers. Second, the researchers did not have any data on the participants' self-esteem, school attendance record, school environment or teacher relationships. Third, there were a lot of comparisons made, so the findings may have overestimated or underestimated the association between obesity and academic performance.

This study was published on March 11 in the International Journal of Obesity.

The UK Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, the University of Bristol and the BUPA Foundation provided funding.

Review Date: 
March 20, 2014
Last Updated:
March 23, 2014