News Release

Study suggests childhood obesity linked to poor school performance and coping skills

Research abstract to be presented at American Academy of Pediatrics 2018 National Conference & Exhibition in Orlando shows that teens and adolescents with obesity are more likely to face psychosocial challenges

Peer-Reviewed Publication

American Academy of Pediatrics


image: These are demographics based on Body Mass Index (BMI) for US children aged 10-17 years: National Survey of Children's Health, 2016 (N=22,914). view more 

Credit: Natasha Gill

ORLANDO, Fla. - A new study suggests that childhood obesity, now at epidemic levels in the United States, may affect school performance and coping skills for challenging situations. The study abstract, "Childhood Flourishing is Negatively Associated with Obesity," will be presented on Saturday, Nov. 3, during the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) 2018 National Conference & Exhibition.

Researchers analyzed responses from 22,914 parents and caregivers of children aged 10-17 years who participated in the 2016 National Survey of Children's Health. The goal was to determine the independent association between body mass index (BMI) and five markers of "flourishing," or overall well-being as it relates to the development of positive psychosocial and coping skills.

"Childhood obesity is one of the biggest public health challenges we face today," said Natasha Gill, MD, FAAP, a Pediatric Emergency Medicine Fellow at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University and Hasbro Children's Hospital. "We know that children with obesity are at a greater risk for long-term health conditions that can last into adulthood, and we wanted to see whether obesity affects a child's immediate well-being as it relates to development of psychosocial skills and other signs of flourishing."

Adjusting for several confounding variables, including gender, child depression status, average sleep hours per night, average digital media exposure per day, highest parental education level, and household poverty status, Dr. Gill and her colleagues analyzed parents' responses to questions about whether their child:

  • "Shows interest and curiosity in learning new things"

  • "Works to finish tasks he or she starts"

  • "Stays calm and in control when faced with a challenge"

  • "Cares about doing well in school"

  • "Does all required homework"

Researchers found that only 27.5 percent of children with obesity, defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same age and sex, were reported to have all five flourishing markers. This compares with 36.5 percent of those in the overweight range, with BMI at or above the 85th percentile, and 39 percent of children with normal BMI.

"The negative relationship between obesity and flourishing markers suggests that when compared to children with a normal BMI, obese youth may be less likely to develop healthy relationships, positive attitudes, a sense of purpose and responsibility, and interest in learning," Dr. Gill said. "Individual markers of flourishing have been shown to stay the same over time like a person's personality," she said, "so it may be important to monitor these markers in childhood to ensure optimal development into adulthood."

"We want all children to reach their maximum potential," she said. "If we can intervene early enough, we can promote positive physical, mental, and social development for these at-risk children and help them become responsible, hard-working members of society." She said her study's findings support the need for focused and coordinated efforts and resources from schools and health care providers that target obesity to improve overall well-being.

Dr. Gill will present an abstract of the study, available below, between 3:30-5 p.m. ET on Saturday, Nov. 3, in the Bayhill 19 room at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL.

Please note: only the abstract is being presented at the meeting. In some cases, the researcher may have more data available to share with media, or may be preparing a longer article for submission to a journal.


The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit Reporters can access the meeting program and other relevant meeting information through the AAP meeting website at

Abstract Title: Childhood Flourishing is Negatively Associated with Obesity

Natasha Gill

Providence, RI, United States

Background and Objective: There are limited studies describing how obesity affects childhood flourishing, or positive well-being. This study evaluates the relationship between obesity and several childhood flourishing markers among school-aged children. Methods: This cross-sectional study utilized parental reported data for children aged 10-17 years (n=22,914) from the 2016 National Survey of Children's Health (NSCH). Multiple binary regressions assessed the association between BMI-for-age and five childhood flourishing markers independently and combined, including completing homework, showing interest in learning, finishing tasks, staying calm when challenged, and caring about academics. Odds ratios were adjusted for age, gender, depression, sleep, digital media exposure, poverty, and parental education level. Results: Only 28.9% of parents with obese children reported all five flourishing markers compared to 38% for overweight, and 40.5% for normal weight children. In an adjusted model, obese children had significantly decreased odds of demonstrating four of five flourishing markers: showing interest in learning (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] = 0.78, 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.62-0.97), finishing tasks (aOR = 0.77, 95% CI, 0.63-0.94), staying calm when challenged (aOR = 0.73, 95% CI, 0.59-0.90), and caring about academics (aOR = 0.69, 95% CI, 0.50-0.86). Completing homework was not found to be associated with obesity. Children with obesity also had a 23% decreased odds (aOR = 0.77, 95% CI, 0.61-0.98) of meeting the combined measure for flourishing markers. Conclusion: Obesity's negative association with multiple childhood flourishing markers may lead to poorer individual and public health outcomes. Obesity interventions today could improve youth flourishing and reduce future psychiatric, medical, and social issues.

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