Parents and teachers have yet another reason to keep a watchful eye on young, overweight girls. Their academic and social development appears to be at risk.
A study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that, compared to their normal weight peers, young girls who become overweight within the first four years of school are at a higher risk for problems in school.
Previous studies about overweight children have focused on health problems associated with obesity, but school-based problems generally appear before health problems, says Ashlesha Datar, the study's author and an associate economist at the Rand Corporation. By quantifying them, parents and teachers may be able to intervene earlier in the problem of being overweight.
The study followed 7,000 children from kindergarten through third grade. It found that overweight children did worse on standardized tests than their normal-weight peers and that the issues are more prevalent for girls than boys. Overweight girls were also more likely to need to repeat a grade, have teacher-reported behavioral problems, less self-control, poorer social skills and more problems learning than their peers.
Kids who are overweight experience both psychological and social problems, says Alicia Moag-Stahlberg, executive director of Skokie-based Action for Healthy Kid. For example, overweight children are more likely to either be bullies themselves or be the victims of bullies.
The solution for weight problems at such a young age, Moag-Stahlberg says, should not be focused on losing weight. The focus should instead be adopting a healthy lifestyle.