A new study out of The Journal of Childhood Development found a link between poor performance in mathematics and childhood obesity, finding that obese elementary school students tended to perform worse than other students without weight problems.
The researchers analyzed data tracking 6,250 children nationwide from kindergarten through fifth grade, comparing the academic performance of students who were obese in kindergarten or fourth grade and remained so through the fifth grade with those who were never obese.
Childhood obesity has steadily been increasing over the past few decades. According to the Center for Disease Control 17 percent of children are obese, triple what it was in the 1970s and 1980s.
They found that when the children were tested one-on-one, obese children scored lower than those who were not.
This pattern held even after the authors of the study took into account any factors that may affect a child’s body size and test scores such as race, socioeconomic status, and parent’s education level and job status. However, many still feel these may be factors anyway.
"Obesity does not prevent kids from doing math, but obesity develops in families where there may be less oversight, less education, fewer resources," Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale Prevention Center said to ABC News.
Another factor the authors point to as a potential cause for the lower test scores is that obese children tend to exhibit loneliness, sadness and anxiety.
“Children who have weight problems are not as well-received by their peers. That creates a condition or situation where developing social skills isn’t as easy," Sara Gable, the study's lead author and an associate professor in the department of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri-Columbia said to California Watch.
This is exaggerated in girls where difficulty in developing social skills is related to obesity.
“The stigma of obesity and lack of conformity to standards of physical appearance – girls are perhaps ... no pun intended, feeling the weight of that more,” Gable continued.
While the study does not prove that obesity actually affects cognition, the study ultimately shows that obesity affects many factors that directly correlate to a students performance.
"We certainly can say that obesity affects everything from self-esteem to social standing to mood and even hormonal balance, so the likelihood that there would be a whole cascade of effects between weight and math test scores is very high," Katz said to ABC News.
Jillian Reed is a writer for 360 Education Solutions