Study: Obesity Predicts Education Experience
> 7/25/2007 2:29:00 PM

There have been many reasons given for the relative academic success or failure of various groups of young Americans: parents' education, familial affluence or poverty, quality of school, etc. This week a study by a researcher from the University of Texas has posited the idea that obesity may be a major factor in determining whether or not a student will attend college.

For Dr. Robert Crosnoe, lead researcher on the new study, the question is one of self-esteem. By examining data from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health Crosnoe determined that female obese teenagers were half as likely to attend college as their slimmer counterparts. Girls from high schools where obesity was uncommon were even less likely to move onto college. The study, which will appear in the journal Sociology of Education, also found that high school aged boys were seemingly immune from the obesity effect on college enrollment.

Exploring the new study in this week's issue, Time magazine wrote:

Crosnoe's study focused specifically on how obesity predicts maladjustment, and how maladjustment predicts college enrollment. For example, he found that self-rejection in obese girls was 63% higher than for non-obese girls. And in one group of obese girls, the rate of class failure was 24% higher than with their non-obese counterparts. The obesity effect on college enrollment was also slightly stronger for blacks and Hispanics than it was for whites but the results were rooted less in race than in psychosocial adjustment.

Obesity is always a hot topic with the media these days. Scary statistics and dire warnings are thrown around with increasing frequency. Of course, that is with good reasonóby 2012, 50% of America's youth will be obese. Often lost in the rush to fight the "epidemic" though, is the fact that those people who we label obese are just that: living, breathing people.

Earlier this month another team of researchers drew public attention to the effect that the stigma of obesity can have on young people. Just as obesity itself is harmful to an individual's health, so too can the stigma itself be damaging. Crosnoe's efforts have begun to put a number on just how damaging those effects can be. In terms of education, it appears as though obesity can be very harmful to young women's futures.

Parents have a responsibility to teach their children about leading a healthy life, but schools too have a role to play. Health and fitness education is important from an early age. At the same time, schools should provide an environment that encourages everyone to achieve and is not hostile to any one group. We can see from these studies that obese children often face difficulties that other children do not. If our efforts to fight obesity are to be successful, those same efforts must also focus on building self-esteem. It's a difficult tight-rope to walk sometimesóhow do you encourage better health at the same time that you tell a child that they should be happy with who they are? But if our schools are to be successful in training students to be happy, healthy and productive members of society, it is a question that must be answered.

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