Obesity tied to poor tertiary education outcomes
Compelling evidence indicates weight bias, in which obese students appear to do less well in tertiary education than their healthy weight peers, according to a systematic review. University/college attainment appears to be less impacted by socioeconomic factors than school-based achievement.
“A better understanding of the processes that underpin this weight bias is needed, including stakeholder (student, staff) experiences of weight stigma, perceived or enacted,” the authors said. “Responsive actions could mirror those to address disability or gender bias, or in health promotion in tertiary education settings.”
Several databases, including Embase, Global health, ERIC, Medline, PsychInfo and Science Citation Index, were searched in March 2018 for cross-sectional and longitudinal studies that reported on young people aged ≥16 years, an association between obesity and academic achievement, and a comparison to healthy weight students. Criteria from the STROBE checklist was used to assess risk of bias.
A total of 1,297 records were identified, of which 16 studies were included. Six cross-sectional and eight of 10 longitudinal studies reported lower educational achievement by students with obesity. There was a low risk of bias in all longitudinal studies, but four cross-sectional studies were at medium risk and two at high risk of bias.
Reduced enrolment was reported in three of four studies. Graduation was less likely in six out of eight, and all six studies reporting on performance showed this was lower in those with obesity. In five of nine studies, obesity was shown to have greater impact on educational achievement for women.
“Previous reviews have documented an overall weak or uncertain association between obesity and school-based educational attainment in children and young people. However, up to half of young adults will go on to further college or university education by age 30 years,” the authors noted.