Friday, July 13, 2012

Being fat doesn’t make kids dumb

Obesity has been blamed for a lot of things – some justified, others not so.

Of course, from a health point of view there is no denying that obesity is a risk factor for a host of undesirable conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, gall bladder disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer and type 2 diabetes.

But what is not socially acceptable is that most often obese people are made the butt of jokes, and children are especially more susceptible to jibes, bullying at school and ostracism.

To make matters worse for kids, previous studies have shown that children who are heavier are less likely to do well at school – probably due to the combined effects of bullying and health problems.

But … hang on! A new study now suggests that obesity is not to be blamed for poor grades at school.

“We sought to test whether obesity directly hinders performance due to bullying or health problems, or whether kids who are obese do less well because of other factors that are associated with both obesity and lower exam results, such as coming from a disadvantaged family,” says Dr Stephanie von Hinke Kessler Scholder from the University of York.

The research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council combined statistical methods with genetic information and concluded that being overweight had nothing to do with not doing well at school.

Researchers studied data on almost 4,000 members of the 90’s Birth Cohort Study. The data included the children’s DNA. According to a report, the researchers combined the latest developments from genetic epidemiology with statistical methodologies in economic and econometric research.

Using two carefully chosen ‘genetic markers’, the team was able to identify children with a slightly higher genetic pre-disposition to obesity.

“Based on a simple correlation between children’s obesity as measured by their fat mass and their exam results, we found that heavier children did so slightly rose in school,” says Dr Scholder.

“But, when we used children’s genetic markers to account for potentially other factors, we found no evidence that obesity casually affects exam results.

“So, we conclude that obesity is not a major factor affecting children’s education outcomes.”

These findings suggest that the previously found negative relationship between weight and education performance is driven by factors that affect both weight and educational attainment.
The finding that obesity is not a cause of poor grades is, the researchers suggest, a positive thing.

“Clearly there are reasons why there are differences in educational outcomes but our research shows that obesity is not one of them,” says Dr Scholder.

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