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Science and Technology

New study looks at connection between childhood obesity and poor math performance

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Sara Gable is an MU Associate Professor of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology. She and two colleagues recently published a study that links childhood obesity to poor math skills in school.

Gable found that this poor performance was connected partly to feelings of sadness and loneliness, and by deficits in social skills. She sat down with KBIA’s Jon Ingram to discuss aspects of the study, starting with why she decided to focus on math.

How did you first suspect that there was a link between obesity and poor math skills? How did this first come about?

We decided to go with math because math performance is an outcome that has been investigated in terms of its relationship with other characteristics, the experience of being objectified or stigmatized. And so, that’s why we selected math.

Can you talk to me a little bit about how you selected the data from which to use in this study?
In 1998, 1999 about 22,000 children and their families were recruited to participated in this research. The children were followed from kindergarten entry through 8th grade. We selected the kindergarten through 8th grade period to study. 
What is your advice for the educational field, the parental field, and the children themselves who might be listening to this? What’s your advice for them to avoid having to deal with these issues?
We know from work done by the Keyser Family Foundation that children are spending increasing amounts of time with screen media devices. And that’s sedentary activity. That is sedentary activity. And it’s a very engaging form of sedentary activity. And we want to make sure that children are learning to enjoy being active, and to enjoy the ingredients that go along with kind of developing healthy habits early in life that maybe they can sustain in adulthood.