Obesity and Coed Grades


Female students who are obese get lower grades than their peers in non-science subjects.(e.g., English).  That’s true even if standardized test scores for the obese and non-obese female are identical. Coeds who are overweight but not obese get grades that are comparable to their more svelte peers.

That’s the finding of research from the University of Illinois (Chicago).

“The study found obesity to be associated with a penalty on teacher evaluations of academic performance among white girls in English, but not in math. There was no penalty observed for white girls who were overweight but not obese.” (2)

The researcher goes on to hypothesize that teachers in subject associated with female gender stereotyping exhibit prejudice in grading obese female students.  Certainly, that’s a possible explanation.  Other studies have concluded that obesity can affect brain function including memory and concentration.

“Obesity subtly diminishes memory and other features of thinking and reasoning even among seemingly healthy people, an international team of scientists reports.” (3)

However, in Branigan’s defense, there is a substantial literature showing that teacher expectations of students affect the grades students receive. Stipek is but one of a large number of references discussing the impact of teacher bias on student achievement. (4)

Bias exists in both positive and negative forms.  If a teacher expects a student to do poorly, the student is likely to get a lower grade.  If the teacher expects a student to do well, the student is likely to get a better grade.

If I may hazard a guess, the same prejudices exist in the workplace with similar results.


  1. Amelia R. Branigan. (How) Does Obesity Harm Academic Performance? Stratification at the Intersection of Race, Sex, and Body Size in Elementary and High School. Sociology of Education, 2017; 90 (1): 25 DOI: 10.1177/0038040716680271
  2. University of Illinois at Chicago. “Teachers may be cause of ‘obesity penalty’ on girls’ grades.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 February 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/02/170207191854.htm>. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/02/170207191854.htm
  3. Janet Raloff, Obesity messes with the brain,” Science News, Vol. 179 #9, April 23, 2011, p. 8. https://www.sciencenews.org/article/obesity-messes-brain
  4. D. Stipek, “How Do Teachers’ Expectations Affect Student Learning,” Education.com, 20 Juy 2010.  https://www.education.com/reference/article/teachers-expectations-affect-learning/
  5. Tim Lobstein et. al., “Child and adolescent obesity: part of a bigger picture,” Lancet. 2015 Jun 20; 385(9986): 2510–2520.

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