Childhood Obesity Is Associated with Poor Academic Skills and Coping Mechanisms

Objective

To assess the relationship between obesity and select childhood flourishing markers including academic skills and coping strategies.

Study design

Cross-sectional study utilizing parental reported data for children aged 10-17 years (n = 22 914) from the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health. Multiple binary regressions assessed the association between body mass index-for-age and 5 school-related and behavioral childhood flourishing markers independently and combined, including completing homework, showing interest in learning, finishing tasks, staying calm when challenged, and caring about academics. Analyses were adjusted for age, sex, depression, sleep, digital media exposure, poverty, and parental education level.

Results

Only 28.9% of children with obesity were reported to have all 5 markers, compared with 38% with overweight, and 40.5% with normal body mass index. In an adjusted model, children with obesity had significantly decreased odds of demonstrating 4 of 5 markers: showing interest in learning (aOR, 0.78; 95% CI, 0.62-0.97), finishing tasks (aOR, 0.77; 95% CI, 0.63-0.94), staying calm when challenged (aOR, 0.73; 95% CI, 0.59-0.90), and caring about academics (aOR, 0.69; 95% CI, 0.55-0.86). Completing homework was not associated with obesity. Youth with obesity also had 23% decreased odds (aOR, 0.77; 95% CI, 0.61-0.98) of meeting the combined measure for flourishing markers.

Conclusions

Childhood obesity is associated with poor academic skills and coping strategies which may lead to worse individual and public health outcomes. Further studies are needed to create validated flourishing measures and identify interventions that promote healthy youth behavior and academic success.