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The Effect of Body Weight on Adolescent Academic Performance


  • Joseph J. Sabia

    () (Department of Housing & Consumer Economics, University of Georgia)


A recent study by Cawley found consistent evidence of a negative relationship between body weight and wages for white women, even after controlling for fixed individual-level unobserved heterogeneity and reverse causality. Building on this work, I estimate the relationship between adolescent body weight and academic achievement to examine whether early human capital accumulation is adversely affected by obesity. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, I estimate ordinary least squares, instrumental variables, and individual fixed effects models. The pattern of findings across models suggests consistent evidence of a significant negative relationship between body mass index and grade point average (GPA) for white females aged 14–17. Estimates reflect that a difference in weight of 50 to 60 pounds (approximately two standard deviations) is associated with an 8 to 10 percentile difference in standing in the GPA distribution. For nonwhite females and males, there is less convincing evidence of a causal link between body weight and academic performance after controlling for unobserved heterogeneity.

Suggested Citation

  • Joseph J. Sabia, 2007. "The Effect of Body Weight on Adolescent Academic Performance," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 73(4), pages 871-900, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:sej:ancoec:v:73:4:y:2007:p:871-900

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • I22 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Educational Finance; Financial Aid


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