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Race and gender differences in the cognitive effects of childhood overweight


  • Susan Averett
  • David Stifel


The increase in the prevalence of overweight children (ages 6-13 years) in the United States over the past two decades is likely to result in adverse public health consequences. We use data from the children of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 cohort to investigate an additional consequence of childhood overweight - its effect on relative cognitive development. To control for unobserved heterogeneity, we estimate individual (child) fixed effect (FE) models and instrumental variable (IV) models. Although recent research suggests that there is a negligible effect of childhood overweight on cognitive ability, our results demonstrate that the effects are uncovered when examining the relationship separately by race. In particular, we find that overweight white boys have math and reading scores approximately an SD lower than the mean. Overweight white girls have lower math scores whereas overweight black boys and girls have lower reading scores. Our results suggest that in addition to well-documented health consequences, overweight children may also be at risk in terms of experiencing adverse education outcomes, which could lead to lower future wages.

Suggested Citation

  • Susan Averett & David Stifel, 2010. "Race and gender differences in the cognitive effects of childhood overweight," Applied Economics Letters, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 17(17), pages 1673-1679.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:apeclt:v:17:y:2010:i:17:p:1673-1679
    DOI: 10.1080/13504850903251256

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. John Cawley, 2004. "The Impact of Obesity on Wages," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 39(2).
    2. Michael P. Murray, 2006. "Avoiding Invalid Instruments and Coping with Weak Instruments," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 20(4), pages 111-132, Fall.
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    Cited by:

    1. Diaz-Serrano, Luis & Stoyanova, Alexandrina P., 2020. "Is There a Link between BMI and Adolescents' Educational Choices and Expectations?," IZA Discussion Papers 13685, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    2. Pei‐An Liao & Hung‐Hao Chang & Yi‐Ju Su, 2020. "Cash transfer program and child underweight—Empirical evidence from a causal mediation analysis," Agricultural Economics, International Association of Agricultural Economists, vol. 51(2), pages 291-303, March.
    3. Kranjac, Ashley Wendell, 2015. "The moderating effect of self-efficacy on normal-weight, overweight, and obese children's math achievement: A longitudinal analysis," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 128(C), pages 168-177.
    4. von Hinke Kessler Scholder, Stephanie & Davey Smith, George & Lawlor, Debbie A. & Propper, Carol & Windmeijer, Frank, 2012. "The effect of fat mass on educational attainment: Examining the sensitivity to different identification strategies," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 10(4), pages 405-418.
    5. Rouse, Kathryn & Hunziker, Brooke, 2020. "Child bodyweight and human capital: Test scores, teacher assessments and noncognitive skills," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 79(C).
    6. Kristen Capogrossi & Wen You, 2017. "The Influence of School Nutrition Programs on the Weight of Low‐Income Children: A Treatment Effect Analysis," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 26(8), pages 980-1000, August.
    7. Zavodny, Madeline, 2013. "Does weight affect children's test scores and teacher assessments differently?," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 34(C), pages 135-145.
    8. Kristen Capogrossi & Wen You, 2013. "Academic Performance and Childhood Misnourishment: A Quantile Approach," Journal of Family and Economic Issues, Springer, vol. 34(2), pages 141-156, June.
    9. Nicole Black & David W. Johnston & Anna Peeters, 2015. "Childhood Obesity and Cognitive Achievement," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 24(9), pages 1082-1100, September.
    10. Petri Böckerman & John Cawley & Jutta Viinikainen & Terho Lehtimäki & Suvi Rovio & Ilkka Seppälä & Jaakko Pehkonen & Olli Raitakari, 2019. "The effect of weight on labor market outcomes: An application of genetic instrumental variables," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 28(1), pages 65-77, January.
    11. Tim Classen, 2017. "Changes Over Time in the Relationship of Obesity to Education Accumulation," Eastern Economic Journal, Palgrave Macmillan;Eastern Economic Association, vol. 43(3), pages 496-519, June.
    12. Diaz Serrano, Lluís & Stoyanova, Alexandrina Petrova, 2020. "Is there a Link between BMI and Adolescents’ Educational Choices and Expectations?," Working Papers 2072/417676, Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Department of Economics.
    13. Capogrossi, Kristen & You, Wen, 2013. "National School Lunch Program Menus: A Moral Hazard Problem," 2013 Annual Meeting, August 4-6, 2013, Washington, D.C. 149701, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    14. Lu, Yu-Lung & Chou, Stephen Jui-Hsien & Lin, Eric S., 2014. "Gender differences in the impact of weight status on academic performance: Evidence from adolescents in Taiwan," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 46(C), pages 300-314.
    15. Averett, Susan L. & Fletcher, Erin K., 2015. "The Relationship between Maternal Pre-Pregnancy BMI and Preschool Obesity," IZA Discussion Papers 9608, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).

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