Grades & Body Weight – Is There a Correlation?

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Childhood and adolescence is a turbulent growth-period where, despite the many changes being experienced, kids are expected to engage consistently and successfully in schooling. Daily social, psychological, and physiological changes can make focusing on school and achieving good grades very difficult for these young minds, including body weight.

One study considered that “children and adolescents face many challenges, but “few problems in childhood have as significant an impact on emotional development as being overweight [1].”

As such, they attempted to learn more about how the bodyweight of children and adolescents could be impacting their school performance. The study discusses childhood and adolescent obesity, which will also be explored in this article.

The Study on Body Weight and Grades

It is first important to note that the term “obesity” will be used to match the language of the study. However, there is no intended negative connotation to be implied in the use of this term.

The goal is not to stigmatize or shame children or adolescents for their body weight, shape, or size, but to simply discuss the recent research indicating a possible correlation between body weight and grades in school.

This 2020 research article published in the Journal of Eating Disorders is not the first to consider the impact of body weight on children. Studies have learned that children and adolescents that are considered “larger-bodied” experience numerous challenges later in life.

For example, one study learned that “larger-bodied adolescents are at increased risk of adverse psychosocial outcomes [1].” One of these is, undoubtedly, school performance. Studies indicate that there seems to be an “obesity achievement gap for children and adolescents [1].”

Not only that, “students with obesity have poorer academic achievement, more absenteeism, higher dropout rates, and are less likely to pursue and attain post-secondary education [1].”

In fact, even if a child is not considered “obese” by medical standards, having a perception that they have high body weight can lead to a lower self-concept, poor mental health, and lower grades [1].

Implications of This Discovery

Students with a higher body weight perception of self can cause struggle with gradesInterestingly, this is not exclusive to children and adolescents perceived as “overweight,” as “both overweight and underweight perceptions appear detrimental to mental and physical health [1].”

Essentially, any child that does not appear as the societal ideal is at-risk for their body weight impacting their mental and physical health and, subsequently, their school performance and grades.

These incredibly unfortunate statistics are likely due to the experience of living in a larger body in a society that stigmatizes individuals based on body weight, size, and appearance.

Add to this the overwhelming pressure many children and teens feel to fit in and the lack of understanding of how one’s behaviors may affect another long-term, and there is a lot of room for horrific bullying.

The most recent study mentioned above provided more evidence to this fact, finding that “that an obesity achievement gap remains when controlling for students’ perceptions of their weight, and that weight perceptions—both underweight and overweight—predict lower academic performance [1].” Ultimately, the question becomes what can be done to change this.

The study touches on this as well, suggesting that school systems be aware of this phenomenon and create “Upstream strategies to prevent negative connotations associated with body sizes divergent from ‘about right”’ and to promote weight acceptance merit consideration [1].”

Essentially, the greatest weapon we have to protect children from these academic and grade struggles is to normalize all bodies, allowing children to accept one another regardless of body weight, shape, or size and reduce the psychological impact of appearance-based bullying and stigmatization.


[1] Livermore, M., Duncan, M.J., Leatherdale, S.T., PATTE< K.A. (2020). Are weight status and weight perception associated with academic performance among youth? Journal of Eating Disorders, 8:52.

About the Author:

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published December 9, 2020, on
Reviewed & Approved on December 9, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.