obesity | VOLUME 16 NUMBER 7 | JULY 2008 1535
nature publishing group
behavior and psychology
Decreased Scholastic Achievement in
Overweight Middle School Students
Stuart M. Shore1, Michael L. Sachs1, Jeffrey R. Lidicker2, Stephanie N. Brett3, Adam R. Wright1 and
Joseph R. Libonati1
The purpose of this study was to investigate whether overweight students achieved a lower relative degree of
scholastic achievement compared to nonoverweight students. Subjects consisted of 6th and 7th grade students
enrolled in a large public middle school in a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We compared grade point averages
(GPAs), nationally standardized reading scores, school detentions, school suspensions, school attendance, tardiness
to school, physical fitness test scores, and participation on school athletic teams among nonoverweight, at risk for
overweight, and overweight students. Overweight students achieved lower grades (P < 0.001) and lower physical
fitness scores (P < 0.0001) than their nonoverweight peers. Overweight students demonstrated a 0.4 letter grade
lower GPA (on a 4.00 scale) and 11% lower national percentile reading scores than their nonoverweight peers. The
overweight students also demonstrated significantly more detentions, worsened school attendance, more tardiness to
school, and less participation on school athletic teams than their nonoverweight peers. Our study suggests that body
mass is an important indicator of scholastic achievement, attendance, behavior, and physical fitness among middle
school students, reiterating the need for healthy lifestyle intervention and prevention measures.
Obesity (2008) 16, 1535–1538. doi:10.1038/oby.2008.254
The percentage of overweight children in the United States
has been on the rise for several decades (1). On the basis of
estimates from the 2003–2004 National Health and Nutrition
Examination Survey, 17% of the total population aged 12–19
years is overweight (2). Overweight children and adolescents
are at risk for significant health problems, including insulin
resistance, increased blood pressure, asthma, high cholesterol,
obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, and psychosocial problems
(3–7). Recent studies have provided a growing body of research
for understanding the impact of pediatric obesity on health-
related quality of life (8–10). In school domains, overweight
students report being teased more, have lower health-related
quality of life in social and academic realms, and have more
school absenteeism than their nonoverweight peers (8–13).
There are long-term consequences of pediatric obesity because
overweight adolescents are more likely to complete fewer
years of formal education, generate lower incomes, and have
a greater likelihood of living in poverty as adults than their
nonoverweight peers (14).
Although there is some evidence of decreased academic
achievement among overweight students based on self-
reported measures (15,16), this finding has not been demon-
strated using objective school data. The purpose of this study
was to determine whether there are significant differences in
school achievement between overweight and nonoverweight
middle school students as measured by objective school data.
We hypothesized that a quantifiable achievement gap would
be discovered between the overweight and nonoverweight
students in this study.
Methods And Procedures
The study was approved by Temple University’s Institutional Review
Board and completed within the Review Board’s guidelines. Full sup-
port of the study was granted by building and school district level
administration. All data in this study were obtained through a second-
ary data analysis from existing school records of 6th and 7th grade stu-
dents from a large public middle school in a suburb of Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania. There were 271 6th graders and 301 7th graders enrolled
in the school at the time of the study. Parents and guardians were noti-
fied in writing about the study. Parents were only required to notify us
in writing if they did not consent to their child’s records being included
in the study. A total of six parents requested that their child’s records
be excluded from the study, leaving the records of 566 students to be
analyzed in the study.
Data used for this study were originally gathered by school personnel
for purposes other than this study. Data were collected at the conclusion
of the 2004–2005 academic school year. The dependent measures were
1Department of Kinesiology, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; 2Statistical Consulting Services, Center for Statistical and Information Science,
Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; 3Department of School Psychology, Immaculata University, Immaculata, Pennsylvania, USA. Correspondence:
Stuart M. Shore (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Received 14 July 2007; accepted 7 April 2008; published online 1 May 2008. doi:10.1038/oby.2008.254
VOLUME 16 NUMBER 7 | JULY 2008 | www.obesityjournal.org
behavior and psychology
placed into three categories including academic achievement, attendance
and discipline, and physical fitness and athletic team participation.
Academic achievement measures. Grade point averages (GPAs)
were collected from year-end student report cards. The GPAs reflect the
cumulative average from the grades earned for each subject over the
course of four 10-week marking periods. Weighted grades are not used
in this school. Reading comprehension scores were obtained from the
degree of reading power (DRP) test. This test was administered to all
students during the first month of school by certified teachers for pur-
poses other than this study. The DRP is a nationally standardized test
that assesses reading comprehension of nonfiction texts. We recorded
the national percentile score for all students.
Attendance and discipline measures. Year-end totals for the num-
ber of days absent, number of days tardy, number of administrative
detentions assigned, and number of days suspended from school were
recorded for all students.
Physical fitness and athletic team participation measures. Phys-
ical fitness data were collected from assessments that were conducted
by certified physical education teachers during the school day in physi-
cal education classes in October. The assessments consisted of curl-ups,
shuttle run, endurance 1-mile run/walk, pull-ups, and sit and reach.
The purpose of the fitness tests was to determine students’ eligibility for
two nationally standardized physical fitness awards. The Presidential
Physical Fitness Award is awarded to students who score at or above
the 85th percentile (based on the 1985 School Population Fitness Sur-
vey) on all five tests. Students are awarded the National Physical Fitness
Award for scoring above the 50th percentile (based on the 1985 School
Population Fitness Survey) on all five tests (17).
Physical education teachers recorded the height and weight of all
students using standardized measuring procedures concurrently with
the physical fitness tests. We converted all heights and weights into
BMI percentile scores using the 2000 Centers for Disease Control
Weight by Age by Gender Tables (18). We placed each student into the
nonoverweight (BMI% percentile <85), at risk for overweight (BMI%
percentile 85–94), or overweight (BMI% percentile ≥95) category based
on the Centers for Disease Control’s parameters (18). We also recorded
the participation of 7th grade students on school-based interscholastic
athletic teams. Sixth grade students were not permitted to participate on
school-based athletic teams.
Comparisons of means between the nonoverweight, at risk for over-
weight, and overweight groups were computed using a one-way
ANOVA with Scheffe post hoc analysis. All tests were conducted con-
trolling for demographic variables that included gender, socioeconomic
status, and ethnicity. Socioeconomic status was determined by students’
enrollment in the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program. All statis-
tics are reported as mean ± s.d. For binary response variables, logistic
regression was used (also adjusted for the demographic variables).
There were 406 nonoverweight, 85 at risk for overweight, and
58 overweight students. Sample characteristics are detailed
in Table 1. Comparisons of the academic, achievement, and
attendance and discipline variables for nonoverweight, at risk
for overweight, and overweight students are listed in Table 2.
For all indices of academic, achievement, and attendance
and discipline, with the exception of suspensions and DRP
national percentile scores, there were significant differences
between overweight students and nonoverweight students
when controlling for demographic variables. Specifically, the
GPAs of nonoverweight students were ~11% higher than those
of the overweight students (P < 0.001). There was a general
tendency for lower DRP national percentile scores in over-
weight students, compared to nonoverweight students, when
controlled for demographic variables (although the difference
between groups was not statistically significant). When deten-
tions were categorized into groups of students who had 0–5
detentions and those who had 6 or more detentions, there
was again a statistical difference between the nonoverweight
and overweight students when controlling for demographics
(P < 0.05). Overweight students were five times more likely
to have 6 or more detentions than nonoverweight students.
The rate of detentions in the nonoverweight students was one-
half of that observed in overweight students when controlling
for demographics. Nonoverweight students also had fewer
absences (25%) and fewer days tardy to school (39%) relative
to overweight students (P < 0.05). There were no significant
table 1 sample characteristics
BMI (mean ± s.d. (range))19.6 ± 3.6(12.3–34.4)
(mean ± s.d. (range))
56.2 ± 31.2(0.4–99.5)
Gender distribution53.5% male46.5% female
Socioeconomic status 3.2% free lunch2.3% reduced lunch
Ethnicity (n (% of total sample))
African American 48(8.5%)
table 2 Academic achievement, discipline, and attendance
(n = 406)
(n = 85)
(n = 58)
Grade point average (4.0 scale)3.45 ± 0.59 3.35 ± 0.74 3.06 ± 0.75‡
Degree of reading power (national percentile rank)74.9 ± 23.7 74.4 ± 24.6266.0 ± 27.20
Total detentions for the school year (days)0.52 ± 1.46 0.82 ± 1.641.27 ± 3.18†
Total absences for the school year (days) 6.43 ± 5.33 7.07 ± 5.77 8.60 ± 8.14†
Total suspensions for the school year (days) 0.08 ± 0.530.24 ± 1.090.27 ± 0.89
Total tardiness for the school year (days)3.83 ± 5.88 4.02 ± 5.24 6.31 ± 10.86†
Data are reported as mean ± s.d.
†P < 0.05 overweight vs. nonoverweight. ‡P < 0.001 overweight vs. nonoverweight.
obesity | VOLUME 16 NUMBER 7 | JULY 2008 1537
behavior and psychology
differences between the at risk for overweight students and
the nonoverweight students on the academic, achievement,
and attendance and discipline measures. There was a trend
for the at risk for overweight students to demonstrate better
performance than overweight students on GPA (P = 0.08), but
not on DRP scores or attendance and discipline measures.
The overall performance of the students on the measures
of physical fitness is outlined in Table 3. As the table indi-
cates, nonoverweight students performed better than their at
risk for overweight and overweight peers when controlling
for demographic variables (P < 0.0001). As expected, at risk
for overweight students also performed at higher levels than
overweight students on all fitness standards with the exception
of the sit and reach test. The most notable differences in per-
formance among all three groups were on weight-dependent
tasks such as the pull-up, shuttle run, and 1-mile run.
Figure 1 illustrates student participation on school athletic
teams. As the figure highlights, 75% of all nonoverweight 7th
grade students participated in at least one school-based ath-
letic team compared to only 61% of at risk and 33% of the
overweight students (P < 0.001, adjusted for demographics).
This establishes an inverse relationship between school-based
athletic team participation and BMI percentile.
The major finding of this study was that nonoverweight stu-
dents demonstrated better grades, a tendency toward higher
reading scores, better attendance, and less school discipline
relative to overweight youth. Existing literature has already
found an inverse relationship between school achievement
and BMI using self-reported measures of achievement and
attendance (15,16). Our study expands the current literature
because we reported on objective measures of student achieve-
ment. In addition, we reported on variables not commented
on in the existing literature. The inclusion of data on disci-
pline, reading comprehension, and participation in school
athletics provides a more comprehensive profile of student
Overweight children score lower on measures of self-
concept and engage in more high-risk behavior than non-
overweight children, which could interfere with scholastic
functioning (19,20). It is possible that lower indices of self-
concept and more high-risk behavior impact school achieve-
ment, attendance, behavior in school, and participation in
school athletics. We speculate that decreased school atten-
dance has a direct impact not only on the other dependent
measures, but also on some factors that we did not measure
such as peer relations, relations with teachers, and student
satisfaction with school.
We were not surprised to find that nonoverweight students
were more physically fit than overweight students, yet we were
surprised to find that school-based athletic team participation
was greater for nonoverweight students. This was an unex-
pected finding because this particular middle school has a “no-
cut” policy (except for basketball) for sport participation and
strongly encourages sport participation regardless of students’
athletic ability. This trend is supported by a recent study that
suggested overweight children entering adolescence have a low
self-perception of their ability to participate in sports (21).
Interestingly, weight status significantly affected the perfor-
mance of all three groups of students on the physical fitness
measures, but only impacted the differences on the academic
and attendance and discipline measures for the overweight
and nonoverweight students. This suggests that the protec-
tive psychosocial factors such as self-efficacy and resiliency
appear to be less compromised for academic tasks than
physical tasks for students that are at risk for overweight. The
at-risk students’ elevated weight status might be a relatively
recent development and thus, not have affected their psycho-
social protective factors to the point of limiting their aca-
demic functioning. It would be interesting for future work to
assess whether physical fitness declines at a faster pace than
academic performance once a student reaches the overweight
Future research that builds on our work has the potential
to bring more attention to the achievement gap noted in this
study. Additional research in this area should consider some
of the limitations of our study. Our study is limited by the
inclusion of students from only one school, a narrow age
range, and data collection from only one time interval. We
recommend that future studies measure similar dependent
variables on a larger and more diverse sample that includes
students at the elementary and high school levels. A longi-
tudinal study measuring these variables would help deter-
mine the long-term impact of pediatric overweight on school
table 3 Physical fitness test percentile scores
Fall curl up 69.92 ± 25.9553.03 ± 30.96* 38.39 ± 28.75†,‡
Fall sit & reach68.86 ± 26.8968.00 ± 28.9563.25 ± 30.39
Fall pull up65.81 ± 21.76 51.23 ± 19.78*47.50 ± 18.90†
Fall shuttle run66.09 ± 23.5251.25 ± 26.53*37.65 ± 26.80†,‡
Fall mile62.06 ± 24.8241.79 ± 24.46*25.92 ± 19.99†,‡
Fitness average67.67 ± 16.77 54.23 ± 17.64*42.92 ± 15.75†,‡
Data are reported as mean ± s.d.
*P < 0.0001 at risk vs. nonoverweight. †P < 0.0001 overweight vs. nonoverweight.
‡P < 0.01 overweight vs. at risk.
Figure 1 Percentage of school athletic team participation. This
figure illustrates the differences in school athletic team participation
rates among all three groups of students. Seventy-five percent of all
nonoverweight 7th grade students participated in at least one school-
based athletic team compared to only 61% of at risk and 33% of the
overweight students (P < 0.001).
VOLUME 16 NUMBER 7 | JULY 2008 | www.obesityjournal.org
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15. Crosnoe R, Muller C. Body mass index, academic achievement, and school
context: examining the educational experiences of adolescents at risk of
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16. Swallen KC, Reither EN, Haas SA, Meier AM. Overweight, obesity and
health-related quality of life among adolescents: the national longitudinal
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17. President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. National school
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and white girls: the NHLBI Growth and Health Study. Ann Epidemiol
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Our findings add to the existing body of literature that suggest
that further efforts are needed to address the issue of pediatric
obesity. Schools have considerable potential to help students
adopt healthy behaviors and can be effective vehicles of sys-
temic change because almost 50 million students in the United
States are enrolled in public schools (22,23). Local and State
Boards of Education can evaluate the amount of physical activ-
ity, quality of health education, and the nutritional choices
provided for students.
Specifically, it is suggested that middle school students receive
225 min of physical education per week that is based on rigorous
national standards (24,25). Quality health education in middle
school consists of adequate instructional time, addresses healthy
eating, increases physical activity, and promotes less sedentary
activities (25). Reducing foods that are high in fat or deep-fried
and limiting access to vending machines are considerations for
improving nutritional choices (26).
In summary, our study suggests that body mass is an impor-
tant indicator of scholastic achievement, attendance, behavior,
and physical fitness among middle school students, reiterating
the need at this stage of development for healthy lifestyle inter-
vention and prevention measures.
The authors declared no conflict of interest.
© 2008 The Obesity Society
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