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Scared To Be At School August 12, 2007

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Easy As Pie, Human Body, Nutrition and Health, Obesity, Psychology and Behavior.

Sad Boy

For some kids, going to school is a scary thing. Not because the work is hard or they detest a certain subject, but because they are teased for being overweight. This dread and fear of going to school can cause absenteeism. Worse still, a new study is showing just how much school overweight kids are missing compared to kids within a normal weight range. The results were supported by the National Institutes of Health and were published in the journal Obesity.

Weight And School Attendance

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University wanted to find out how weight affected school attendance. They looked at more than one thousand 4th, 5th and 6th graders. You may have heard of the body mass index (BMI). It’s a simple and general way to measure body fat based on weight and height. You can find out your BMI on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. The website has a BMI calculator for kids and teens or adults. Researchers compared kids with a BMI in the overweight range to those in the normal range. The verdict? Overweight kids were absent approximately 20 percent more often than kids who were of normal weight.

Common Indicators

There are already four indicators of absenteeism in schools – age, gender, race and socioeconomic status. This new research, however, is now adding a fifth one to the mix – obesity. In fact, BMI was a stronger indicator of absenteeism compared to the traditional indicators.

Health Problems

Given all of the media attention to obesity, most of us are now familiar with the health problems that stem from obesity, such as heart disease and diabetes. But even though kids aren’t likely to be experiencing these kinds of health problems just yet, they are still dealing with other damaging aspects of bullying. The social stigma of being overweight can be brutal, which may then lead to fear and ultimately, absenteeism. Also worrying are the effects of so much missed school because absenteeism can impact grades as well as the potential for future education. Comments by Andrew Geier, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychology in the School of Arts and Sciences at Pennsylvania University, were provided in a press release:

At this young age, children are not necessarily experiencing the health problems that will likely confront them later in life unless serious intervention takes place. However, they are missing school at a greater rate than their peers, setting themselves up for the negative fallout that accompanies absenteeism. What’s keeping them from school, more than heath issues, is the stigma and the bullying that accompanies being overweight. Future research should explore this additional, very damaging side effect of being overweight.

I agree with that last part about future research. It’s important to investigate how being overweight not only affects school attendance, but also how it might impact future education, career and lifestyle. The more we learn and understand, the better we can find ways to address all of these factors related to obesity, particularly the social stigma. No child – including an overweight one – deserves to be bullied and sadly, the effects of bullying can harm many areas of a child’s life.

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