Researchers at the University of Missouri found a link between childhood obesity and poor math performance. The study, released Thursday in the journal Child Development, monitored 6,250 children from the time they were in kindergarten until fifth grade.
Those students identified as "persistently obese"—that is, those who were obese throughout the course of the study—performed worse on math tests from first to fifth grade than did their non-obese counterparts.
The study also found that anxiety and loneliness were more common among the obese students, which may have contributed to their weaker math performance. Persistently obese girls were found to have fewer social skills, which may have been another factor that led to the lower math scores.
“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,” said the University of Missouri's Sara Gable, who led the study.
At five points throughout the duration of the study, researchers obtained information about the participants' social skills, emotional well-being and academic performance from their parents and teachers. At those times, the children's heights and weights were measured.
The coincidence of obesity and poor math performance may have to do with the adverse social effects of obesity, such as lower confidence and isolation. But the correlation is likely more complicated than that.
“The findings illustrate the complex relationships among children’s weight, social and emotional well-being, academics and time,” said Gable.
Find the link to the University of Missouri's news release about the study here.