‘Mum’s BMI affects school’ research study finds

The body mass index (BMI) of a child’s mother may influence a teacher’s perception of that child’s academic ability.

This is according to newly published research from NUI Galway and Queens University Belfast.

The joint university study shows that obesity should not be looked at solely as a health issue but rather one that may have much broader economic implications.

“The study found a significant relationship between a mother’s BMI and the probability of the child’s ability being assessed as below average by their teacher,” said the co-author of the study, Michelle Queally.

Ms Queally is a post-doctoral research fellow at the J.E. Cairnes School of Business and Economics at NUI Galway.

She described the finding as “potentially worrisome” and said more research was needed.

Ms Queally explained the range at which BMI negatively influences a teacher’s perception of a child’s academic ability.

“A 10-point increase in BMI, moving someone from normal to obese, for example, would be roughly equivalent in terms of its impact on the probability of being assessed as below average as would the child being female,” she said.

Data was used from the first wave of the longitudinal study, the Growing up in Ireland Survey. This national survey represents a sample of more than 8,500 children from 900 schools in Ireland.

From this data, the NUIG and Queens researchers investigated whether a teacher’s assessments of a child’s academic ability is associated with the BMI of the mother.

Other related findings from their research showed how boys and girls abilities were perceived differently.

“Other findings of the study show that boys, for example, are more likely to be rated as below average in reading and girls are more likely to be rated as below average by teachers in maths,” Ms Queally said.

The study notes that the potential for a mother’s weight status, to influence teachers’ perceptions of their children’s ability, could have long-term consequences when it comes to the child’s educational outcome. This is because of the teacher’s role in marking examinations.

The researchers emphasised that the findings cannot be taken as “definitive proof” that teachers stereotype children based on an assessment of their mother’s BMI.

The full study is published in the journal Economics and Human Biology.

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