Numbers on Scales Linked to Math Tests

Obese children perform more poorly on math tests if obese from beginning

(RxWiki News) While the health problems associated with childhood obesity are becoming well known, less is known about social and mental lives of obese children.

A recent study sheds a little light on the social and mental lives of obese children with findings that link poor math performance to obesity in children who were obese throughout their elementary years.

"If your child is obese, don't wait - get them help now."

Sara Gable, PhD, an associate professor in the University of Missouri Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology, led the long-term study using the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort.

In this nationally representative group of students, Gable tracked 6,250 children from kindergarten through fifth grade, gathering data from parent and teacher surveys and measurements of the children at five points during the study.

Family information was gathered from the parents, and the teachers provided information on the children's emotional well-being and interpersonal skills. The children themselves were weighed and measured at each point and given academic tests.

The researchers found that children who had been obese throughout the entire study - from kindergarten through fifth grade - had poorer math scores from first grade on for the next five years compared to the children who had never been obese.

No such pattern was found for boys who became obese later on in elementary, such as in third or fifth grade. Meanwhile girls who became obese later had some poor math performance, but it then subsided and appeared to be explained partly by having poorer social skills.

Among the children who were obese and scoring lower on math tests, higher levels of sadness, loneliness and anxiety were observed and appear to be linked to the poor math performance.

"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 appeared online June 14 in the journal Child Development. The research was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, Food Assistant and Nutrition Research Programs and the University of Missouri. No conflicts of interest were noted.

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Review Date: 
June 13, 2012