Obese elementary school students more likely to be worse at math
(CBS News) Children's math abilities may have as much to do with their bellies as it does with their brains.
A new study finds obese children are more likely to be worse at math than their skinnier classmates.
The study, published in the June 14 issue of Child Development, involved 6,250 children from an ongoing government study that tracks kindergarteners through the time they're in fifth grade, and reflects a nationally representative sample of kids. At five points throughout that duration, researchers gathered information from parents and teachers about children's social skills, emotional well-being and academic abilities, along with measuring their heights and weights.
The researchers discovered that kids who were persistently obese from the start of kindergarten through fifth grade performed significantly worse on math tests by the time they reached first grade, as compared with boys and girls who were never obese. For boys whose obesity started later - in third or fifth grade - no drops in math were found, but girls who became obese at later ages showed a temporary decline in math skills.
But obesity negatively affected the children beyond their multiplication tables. The study found that girls who were persistently obese had fewer social and interpersonal skills. Boys and girls who were obese throughout the study also reported feeling sadder, lonelier and more anxious - which the researchers say could have contributed to their math performance.
"The findings illustrate the complex relationships among children's weight, social and emotional well-being, academics and time," study author Sara Gable, an associate professor of nutrition and exercise physiology, at the University of Missouri-Columbia said in a written statement. "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."
Does a child's obesity cause these social, emotional and academic problems, or is the other way around? Dr. Becky Hashim, a clinical child psychologist with the Children's Hospital at Montefiore, in New York City, who was not involved in the study, told Health.com that being obese could weaken social skills if a child grows isolated from bullying or the stigma from being overweight. However she also said kids with poor social skills might become sad and turn to food as a source of comfort. In other words, it's complicated.
"Feelings of sadness or loneliness or anxiety in and of themselves may get in the way of school performance," Hashim told Health.com. "It may be more difficult to pay attention. These kids may be less likely to ask a question."