Effects of Weight on Adolescent Educational Attainment

This paper is one of a series published by the National Bureau of Economic Research on obesity. The authors used data from the 1997 cohort of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth to investigate the association between weight and educational achievement of adolescents. Achievement was measured by highest grade attended, highest grade completed, and drop out status.

Although the health consequences of obesity are well explored, other consequences of obesity, such as effects on educational status, receive little attention. This paper suggests several mechanisms by which obesity may affect education: peers and teachers may discriminate against overweight and obese children, adversely affecting educational achievement; obesity may affect health in ways that could lower achievement, such as by affecting sleep or causing depression; obesity may cause children to spend less time in physical and social activities, and as a result they may study more, which could raise their educational achievement level.

The authors’ analyses suggest that the association between weight status and measures of educational attainment used here were small; they found little evidence that weight status affects educational attainment either positively or negatively. However, one limitation of this study is that the analyses were not powered to detect small effects. Further research could address this limitation, as well as use more subtle measures of achievement that could detect differences in achievement levels related to weight.