Here is what we know about children and proper nutrition so far in our age of advanced health.
- A proper breakfast helps them focus at school.
- A balanced diet encourages healthy growth and normal weight.
- Feeding them junk food, especially processed, high-fat and high-sugar foods, will cause them to develop a palette for unhealthy foods.
A new fact to add to this list? Obesity can cause kids to perform worse at school. At least that’s what new research is proposing.
Recent studies have shown that obese children tend to have lower test scores than their peers, and that obese girls score even lower than boys. In addition to poor test scores, obese children are also more likely to be held back in school, and are less likely to attend college.
To conduct the study, researchers tracked the academic performance of more than 6,200 school children grades kindergarten through fifth, and found that obese children performed worse on math tests than non-obese students. Perhaps more telling was that the pattern held steady even after researchers considered other factors that may influence body weight and poor test scores, including family income, race, mother’s education level, and parents’ expectations for the child’s academic performance.
Lead researcher Sara Gable, Ph.D. – professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia – reported that they found children, both male and female, who entered kindergarten with weight problems performed consistently worse on academic tests than their non-obese peers starting in first grade and carrying through fifth grade.
Of the results, published in the journal Child Development, Rebecca London, P.h.D., states that she believes the link between obesity in students and academic achievement has been established, but speculates as to why that is. “Is it the actual state of obesity – those extra pounds that are somehow influencing students’ achievement, or is it something related to the obesity but not the actual pounds?”
Various studies have also pointed out other obesity-related symptoms including poor self esteem, lack of social skills, and medical problems related to obesity – such as asthma and diabetes- as indicators for poor academic performance as well. Clearly, more factors seem to involved than just weight itself.
The solution? While some point to a need for better nutrition in schools, others believe kids just need to move more, which is why there’s been a big push lately to re-establish extended recess periods and physical education classes in schools.
Efforts outside of the school system are working to get kids healthier, too. Two creative efforts on behalf of health-minded small businesses include WOD Toys – weight-shaped fitness toys that are kid-safe; and the MOVband, which kids wear like a watch to track their movement with a point system.
Whether there really is a connection between obesity and poor academic performance, obesity in children is a big problem for various other reasons, including risk of serious health problems such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. So whatever it takes – better nutrition, more physical activity, or both – we need to get kids healthier for their own sake. Whether or not they perform well on a math quiz is just one of the many problems they could face if they remain overweight throughout the course of their life.
June 14th, 2012