Objective: The current study examines the relationship between obesity and academic performance among second grade students. We hypothesized that students who were overweight or obese would have poorer grades than students who were normal weight.

Design: Cross-sectional.

Setting: Seven elementary schools from a southeast Texas Independent School District.

Participants: The sample was composed of 798 ethnically and racially diverse elementary school children. Students were classified as normal weight, overweight, and obese.

Main Outcome Measures: Differences in cumulative grades (math, science, and reading) across weight classifications were examined using sex, race/ethnicity, and school socioeconomic level as covariates. Additionally, all subject areas were analyzed independently.

Analysis: Linear mixed models and follow-up pairwise comparisons.

Results:The linear mixed model revealed significant differences in grades across weight classifications (p<.05).

Conclusions and Implications: This study suggests that weight status is an important marker of scholastic success. Addressing overweight may bolster efforts to improve academic performance.

Key Take Away Points

  • The current study was conducted in order to further assess the relationship between weight status and grades in 2nd grade students.
  • Our study indicates that academic performance, specifically math grades, is lower in obese students compared to students who are normal weight and overweight.
  • Specifically, our study found that weight status was related only to academic performance regarding math but not reading or science.
  • There may be both physiological and psychological explanations for these differences. Lower cardiovascular fitness, the Pygmalion effect, Golem effect, weight based discrimination, weight stigmatization and internalization of negative stereotypes are a few.
  • The need for early intervention regarding pediatric obesity is highlighted by these findings.

Author Biography

Dr. Craig A. Johnston is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics-Nutrition and Department of Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Johnston’s primary research focus is the behavioral management of obesity encompassing the entire lifespan. Specifically, he has developed an efficacious school-based obesity prevention program for children and adolescents. His research also has focused on developing strategies for maintaining a healthy lifestyle in adults to reduce the occurrence of cardiovascular and other chronic diseases. Dr. Johnston is active in publishing peer reviewed articles and chapters and has presented at many national and international scientific conferences. He also is involved in training professionals in the use of behavioral strategies, adherence promotion, motivational interviewing, and improving communication between health care providers and patients. Dr. Johnston obtained his Ph.D. in clinical child psychology from the University of Kansas.

Dr. Jennette P. Moreno is an Instructor in the Department of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Moreno’s research focuses on is the prevention of childhood obesity in a school setting, with a special interest in the role of parents in the treatment of childhood obesity. Dr. Moreno obtained her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Louisiana State University.

Dr. Tzu-An Chen is the primary biostatistician in the Behavioral Nutrition Group in the Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and has analyzed outcomes from several RCTs. Dr. Chen's interests are applying statistics in social-behavioral science. Dr. Chen is expert in advanced statistics analyses (e.g., mixed modeling, structural equation modeling, factor analysis, multivariate analysis, multiple response analysis, and diagnostic test) and advanced measurement and advanced psychometric methods (e.g., reliability/random error and validity/bias analyses, classical test theory, item response modeling, testlet theory, among many others). Dr. Chen obtained her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology in the area of Quantitative Methods from University of Texas at Austin.

Sandra Stansberry, MPH is a Research Associate at UT Physicians, the clinical practice of The University of Texas Medical School at Houston. She is also a member of the UT-Memorial Hermann Center for Healthcare Quality and Safety. Her current work involves helping to improve the quality of patient care as part of the Texas Health Care Transformation and Quality Improvement Program. Sandra holds a Master of Public Health degree and a B.S. in Human Nutrition and Foods.

Deborah L. Woehler, MS, RD, LD obtained her Bachelor’s in Foods & Nutrition from Purdue in 1976. While completing her dietetic internship at the Houston Veterans Affairs Hospital, she obtained her Master of Science in Nutrition at the Texas Woman’s University in Houston, TX. Later, in 1992 she completed an Executive MBA at Rice University, Houston TX. In 2002, she completed the American Dietetic Association Adult Weight Management Certification Program in Nashville, TN. In 2001, Deborah Woehler became the executive director and founding board member of the Cluthe and William B. Oliver Foundation, a non-profit foundation based in Houston, TX. The mission of the foundation is the prevention of childhood obesity through teaching healthy eating habits and physical activity in schools, community centers, museums and other venues.

All correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Craig A. Johnston, Ph.D., Department of Pediatrics-Nutrition, 6655 Travis Street, Suite 320, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas 77030. E-mail: caj@bcm.edu


This study was supported by a grant from the Cluthe & William B. Oliver Foundation. We would like to thank Sandy Bristow, Sonya Kaster, R.D., and Tom Woehler, M.D. for their contributions.