Obese children struggle more in maths lessons 'because they feel lonely'

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UPDATED:

11:04 GMT, 15 June 2012

Children who grow up obese have more to contend with than a greater risk of health problems such as asthma and diabetes. A new study has found they will struggle more in the classroom as well.

Researchers from three U.S universities found youngsters who were overweight from the ages of three to nine performed worse on a maths test than their slim peers.

The findings add to a growing body of research that suggests obesity is associated with poorer academic performance and therefore long-term career prospects.

Struggling at school: Obese children performed worse on maths tests than their slim peers (posed by model)

Struggling at school: Obese children performed worse on maths tests than their slim peers (posed by model)

Lead author Sara Gable from the University of Missouri, Columbia, said: 'Our study suggests that obesity in the
early years of school, especially obesity that persists across the
elementary grades, can harm children's social and emotional well-being
and academic performance.'

The team from the University of Missouri, Columbia, the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Vermont looked at a nationally representative sample of more than 6,250 children.

The children were followed from the
time they started kindergarten (aged three) through to fifth grade (aged nine).

At five time points,
parents provided information about their families, teachers reported on
the children's interpersonal skills and emotional well-being, and
children were weighed and measured; they also took academic tests.

When compared with children who were
never obese, boys and girls whose obesity persisted from the start of the study performed worse on the math test in the first grade. This lower performance continued through
fifth grade.

Girls who were
persistently obese were also found to have fewer social skills. The researchers said the poor maths performance of obese boys and girls could be partly explained because they reported feeling sadder, lonelier and more anxious.

Obesity is a growing concern in all western countries. In 2010, 30 per cent of boys and girls aged two to 15 were classed as either overweight or obese in the UK.

It
is estimated that the NHS spends 4.2billion every year treating
patients for obesity-related illnesses such as heart disease and
diabetes – as well as on costly weight-loss surgery.

These
include gastric band operations which costs 6,000 per patient as well
as gastric bypass surgery – which splits the stomach into compartments
so patients feel full more quickly – at 10,000 a time

The study was published in the journal Child Development.