A new study published in the Journal of Child Development found that childhood obesity can affect a child’s math performance and social skills.
Researchers at the University of Missouri followed over 6,000 children from kindergarten through the fifth grade. Data collected for the study included information from parents on the family’s dynamic and reports from teachers on the child’s academic and social progress.
The height and weight of each participating child was also monitored throughout the longitudinal study.
Findings showed that obese children performed worse on math tests from first to fifth grade in comparison to children who were not overweight.
"Obesity that persists across the elementary school years has the potential to compromise several areas of children's development, including their social and emotional well-being and academic performance," said Sara Gable, associate professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at University of Missouri and lead author of the study.
Study authors reported that poor math performance can be an influential factor in determining an obese child’s emotional well-being. Many obese children reported feeling sadder, lonelier, and more anxious than children of healthier weights.
The population of obese youth has tripled since 1980 with 12.5 million children and teens classified as obese by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Experts believe that there are other influential factors at play in determining an obese child’s overall well-being and their academic performance.
"Obesity does not prevent kids from doing math, but obesity develops in families where there may be less oversight, less education, fewer resources," said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale Prevention Center.
Dr. Jennifer Cross, a pediatrician at the Komansky Center for Children’s Health believes that stress is a highly impactful factor in obese children.
"If obesity causes a child to feel chronically stressed (i.e. bullying, low self-esteem, etc.), that could lead to differences in the brain," Cross explained.
When determining the exact correlation between weight and cognition, Dr. Katz believes that it is all interrelated.
"…we certainly can say that obesity affects everything from self-esteem to social standing to mood and even hormonal balance, so the likelihood that there would be a whole cascade of effects between weight and math test scores is very high," said Katz.