Childhood Obesity and Academic Performance
Obesity is a creeping epidemic affecting a large part of world. According to the obesity statistics, America has the largest number of obese people in the world, followed by Europe. Many places in Asia like Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines and Japan, which showed relatively lower rates of obesity, now show an increased number of obese patients. The dangerous disease, obesity, affects people of all age groups including children, adolescent and adults. In children, obesity is measured in terms of percentile body mass index.
Obesity is the most prevalent problem and doctors are struggling hard to find a solution to this problem. It effects the health of both adults and children in a number of ways decreasing the overall global productivity. A positive aspect of this problem is that, it is controllable to a large extent. The origin of the problem is largely attributed to the faulty life style habits. An increased intake of calorie-rich fast foods along with a sedentary life style patterns have resulted in accumulation of undesired fats in the body.
Modern day children are more attracted to junk foods, concentrated drinks and other deep-fried fast foods. Our markets are flushed with processed foods. Gone are the days when parents used to feed their children with natural foods stuffs like fresh vegetables, fruits, milk, etc. Some unhealthy chemicals added to the food items to enhance the taste, are also considered to lead to obesity. Some animals are fed with growth hormones to make them look bulkier. People who consume the meat of such animals also tend to become obese. Apart from these, modern children do not like to play out-door games and sit either in front of TV or play computer games. Hence there is no utilization of the accumulated fat.
Childhood obesity effects both mental and physical health. Its effects on physical health are most apparent and can be measured through different clinical tests. These effects include: an increased blood pressure leading to a higher rate of cardiovascular problems, higher chances of developing type II diabetes, higher chances of developing breathing problems like asthma, gastrointestinal disorders, neurological problems etc. Its effects on the mental health go unnoticed, but have a long-standing impact.
Obese children generally suffer from low self-esteem and depression. Due to the poor body image, they are ranked lower by the peer group. They feel isolated and cannot participate in social activities. Some children also lose interest in going to school, hence affecting their academic achievement. Research has shown that there is a direct correlation between physical fitness and academic performance. Obesity affects some vital parts of the brain like hippocampus (responsible for long term memory), frontal and temporal lobes (required from planning and memory). It damages the tissues of the brain to such an extent that, a very less proportion of brain is available for retention of memory. This leads to lower IQ levels and poor academic performance. In fact, a research conducted by Datar A, 2004, shows that the academic performance of the kindergartners in the U.S (who are passing through the first two years of schooling) was largely affected by the childhood obesity.
In order to meet the demands of the competitive world, the focus of schools has shifted towards achieving better academic scores. Physical activity programs are being considered as wastage of time. Statistics show that inclusion of physical activity programs (sports) in the school curriculum enhances the test scores (Trudeau F and Shephard RJ. 2008).
School's role in reducing childhood obesity
School is the place where a child spends a considerable amount of time and hence school can play a very good role in reducing the problem of childhood obesity. The first step in this line will be to increase the time allotted for physical activity by reducing the in-class time. Physical fitness activities increase the supply of oxygen to brain, hence enhancing the brain’s function. The human brain cannot handle continuous learning sessions. After a certain period of time, it shuts down and fails to grab further information. In fact, it is ideal to allow 2-5 minutes of movement after every 20 minutes of learning (Sousa DA. 2001). Hence, intermittent breaks involving constructive physical activity will enhance the test scores.
Schools can educate the parents regarding correct nutrition. Apart from this, schools can run physical education sessions with a correct combination of diet and exercises.
Parent’s role in reducing childhood obesity
Parents should be watchful and consult the pediatrician regarding increasing child’s weight. Parents should ensure that their child takes a proper diet at proper times. Children should be encouraged to play more outdoor games.
An obese child requires the support of the entire family. Obesity is the mother of number of other fatal diseases which can become an economic burden to the family. Thankfully, this problem is controllable to a large extent. So why not solve the “overweight problem” by adopting certain healthy lifestyle habits.
1. Healthmpowers.org. Increasing Academic Performance While Reducing Obesity Background and Justification. Retrieved from http://healthmpowers.org/getmedia/0d210f0a-65e2-4c46-aad9-9a9272317cfa/Increasing-20Academic-20Performance-While-Reducing-Obesity.aspx
2. Datar A, Sturm R, Magnabosco JL. 2004. Childhood Overweight and Academic Performance: National Study of Kindergartners and First-Graders. Obes Res. 12(1): 58-68.
3. Trudeau F, Shephard RJ. 2008. Physical education, school physical activity, school sports and academic performance. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 5:10.
4. Sousa, David A. How the Brain Learns. Thousad Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2001.