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How Obesity Affects Children in School

By Rob Callahan ; Updated July 18, 2017

Trends show that childhood obesity increased between the 1970s and the first decade of the 21st century, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among preschool-age children, obesity increased from 5 percent to 10.4 percent. In children from 6 to 11 years old, it increased from 6.5 percent to 19.6 percent. In high school and middle school children, obesity climbed from 5 percent to 18.1 percent. With the increase in obesity throughout school-age children and young adults, several physical and mental health concerns have become more prominent throughout the affected age groups.

Heart Disease and Circulatory Health

Obesity is a major risk factor for heart disease. A younger obese child may not notice the effect his weight has on his heart and circulatory health, but this strain may become evident during his teenage years. As his weight may also interfere with physical activity, he is also deprived of the ability to engage in many forms of exercise, including taking part in physical education classes and organized school sports, which further affects his circulatory health. He may begin suffering from the early stages of cardiac hypertrophy and high blood pressure because of obesity during this time.

The Rise of Juvenile Diabetes

The rise in obesity among young people parallels a rise in Type 2 diabetes, which previously was rare in children. Diabetes has a physical effect on some organs, such as the kidneys, and often exerts an emotional impact on sufferers as well. When a student’s blood sugar is affected by the disease, she may experience mood swings. If she is also going through puberty, hormonal changes can further affect her mental and emotional states. Either of these influences alone can hinder her academic performance. When each compounds the other, she may experience significant impact on her ability to concentrate, retain interest, complete tasks or interact with other students.

Effects on Academic Performance

The most obvious area of academic performance affected by obesity is physical education. Obese students are less able to complete assignments that involve running or other prolonged periods of physical exertion than are physically fit students. This is due in part to the increased strain on the bodies of obese students, and in part because of general lifestyle. An obese student will tend toward less exercise and physical exertion outside of school, leading to less development of the lungs, heart and other muscles. Because of the risks of emotional and mental imbalance associated with Type 2 diabetes and other side effects of obesity, the student’s performance in other areas, such as mathematics, English or science, may also suffer.

Self Image and the Social Effects of Obesity

There are many social demands on children in all levels of school. A healthy sense of self esteem and a good self image can go a long way toward helping students overcome peer pressure, academic stress and other factors that contribute to depression or inhibit social development. According to Robert Reasoner of the National Association for Self Esteem, a child’s self worth can affect his academic performance as early as first grade and, in severe cases, can even have an influence on a student’s decision to drop out of school later in life. A student can be ostracized by others because of obesity, and the social effects of this often diminish the student’s self esteem and hinder academic performance.

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