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Does Obesity Make Kids Bad at Math?

childhood obesity, academic performance

Health impacts school work and learning, but researchers aren't quite sure how.

Obesity in childhood has been connected to rising rates of both types of diabetes in the U.S. and other chronic conditions once only seen in adults. But poor health isn’t the only consequence connected with carrying around too much weight as a child. A new study has found that obese is somehow connected to a lower performance at school, especially math.

What exactly is the fat/math performance equation?

The study, published in the journal Child Development, found that children deemed to be obese when they started kindergarten performed worse on math tests in first through fifth grade than their classmates who were not obese. Obese kids also reported feeling sadder, lonelier and more anxious than their peers, according to ABC News’ Mikaela Conley.

Researchers are not saying that it’s the extra weight that prevents kids from doing math — rather that the weight and poor math performance could be consequences of the same thing.

“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.

One attempt to connect the dots considers brain development. From ABC News:

“Stress has been shown to affect brain development and functioning,” Dr. Jennifer Cross, a pediatrician at the Komansky Center for Children’s Health at NY-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, wrote in an email. “If obesity causes a child to feel chronically stressed (i.e. bullying, low self esteem, etc.), that could lead to differences in the brain.”

The study followed more than 6,000 kids from Kindergarten through 5th grade. Those who were considered obese through the entire period — especially girls — scored lower on math performance. The pattern held, according to CNN’s Amanda Gardner, even when mother’s education level, income, race and parental expectations were taken into account.

Interestingly, boys who weren’t considered obese until the third through fifth grades didn’t follow this pattern and, on average, scored similarly to their normal-weight peers.

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