Childhood obesity and academic performance — ASN Events

Childhood obesity and academic performance (#90)

Nicole Au 1
  1. Monash University, Clayton, VIC, Australia

 It is widely recognised that childhood obesity is associated with a number of immediate health consequences. However, perhaps a more important consequence of childhood obesity is the impact that it can have on a child’s academic performance. The consequences of poor academic performance in childhood and adolescence can be long-lasting and detrimental to wellbeing and economic prosperity. Despite considerable research into childhood obesity, little is known about the effects of obesity on childhood academic outcomes.

The main objective of this study is to examine the impact of childhood obesity on academic performance. The study also seeks to examine emotional and social development, cognitive functioning, absences from school and bullying as potential pathways through which obesity may impact on academic performance.

This study uses data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, a nationally representative sample of about 5000 four to five year olds in Australia in 2004.  The impact of childhood obesity on teacher-rated academic performance and national test scores from the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) is estimated using multivariate regression models. Academic performance is measured approximately two years after the child’s obesity status is measured.

The results show that obese children have significantly lower teacher-rated math and literacy scores and lower NAPLAN scores compared with normal weight children. This negative relationship holds after controlling for a wide range of socioeconomic characteristics, school factors and lifestyle behaviours. Obese children also demonstrate lower levels of cognitive skills and experience more psychosocial problems and bullying than normal weight children.  

Childhood obesity is negatively associated with academic performance at primary school, and this finding suggests that childhood obesity may have serious long term consequences for economic prosperity and wellbeing later in adulthood.