Shapedown program for overweight adolescents and children.
AURORA, CO - Zoe McCoy (R), 9, hugs Hannah Adams, 12, during the Shapedown program for overweight adolescents and children.

A new study published in the journal Child Development may have uncovered a link between childhood obesity and poor math performance. The study followed 6,200 kids and monitored their academic performance from kindergarten to fifth grade. Within that group, results in math performance were compared between kids who were never obese and kids that remained obese during that five year period.

When those children were tested one-on-one with students who didn’t have weight problems, the kids suffering from obesity began performing at a lower level as early as the first grade. Sara Gable, the studies lead author, told California Watch that she believes that obesity severely hampers a child’s self-esteem, impacting their academic performance from a very young age.

“Kids who start school with weight problems come to kind of understand that, you know what? Maybe other people don’t like me because of this,” she said. “I don’t believe these children are ‘less smart,’ but I do believe if they’re put into a situation where they’re being expected to perform … they don’t perform as well.”

Obese children face risks to their emotional and social well-being that can harm their academic performance, new research suggests.

The study, published today in the journal Child Development, found obese elementary school children performed worse on math tests than their peers without weight problems.

A lack of social acceptance could account for the lower test scores, researchers said. Obese children who do not feel accepted by their peers often exhibit feelings of loneliness, sadness and anxiety that can hinder their academic performance.

Those feelings became even more apparent as the children progressed through school, according to the study.

“Children who have weight problems are not as well-received by their peers. That creates a condition or situation where developing social skills isn’t as easy,” said Sara Gable, the study’s lead author and an associate professor in the department of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri, Columbia.

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