Excessive homework combined with the presence of school-related stress can negatively affect children’s weight, according to study data published in Obesity.
Children, especially boys, have higher adiposity indicators with high levels of mental work performed with a stress component, according to researchers. The study is the first to go beyond the acute effect of mental work on energy balance and to indicate associations between adiposity and homework profiles, according to researchers.
“While the design of this study does not support causation, it suggests that being stressed by schoolwork and exposed to a large extent to this activity could be linked to abdominal obesity,” the researchers said.
Marie-Eve Mathieu, PhD, of the department of kinesiology at the University of Montreal, and colleagues identified a sample of children enrolled in the Quebec Adiposity and Lifestyle Investigation in Youth (QUALITY) cohort, composed of white children aged 8 to 10 years with at least one biological parent who is obese. Researchers completed a cross-sectional analysis of 511 children that included a complete anthropometric profile assessment.
Children, with the assistance of a research assistant, completed questionnaires asking how much time was spent on homework in a single day (broken down into categories of more or less than 30 minutes). Children were also asked to describe their stress level regarding schoolwork during a period of 3 months; responses ranged from not stressed (not at all) to stressed (a little bit, quite a bit or a whole lot). The children also wore a calibrated accelerometer.
Among those who completed more than 30 minutes of homework per day, boys who reported being stressed by schoolwork had significantly higher total and trunk body fat percentages. There was no difference in adiposity indicators in girls or in boys and girls not stressed by schoolwork. More sedentary behavior among children, including increased screen time (children also reported time spent watching television or using the computer for leisure), partly mediated the relationship between homework and anthropometric profiles.
More attention should be paid to stressful mental work as a potent risk factor for obesity, according to researchers. The results are in line with previous studies conducted in adults that linked exposure to mental stress at work with weight gain, and in children who have higher energy intake on examination days.
“Homework duration is insufficient in itself to reveal an association with an adverse adiposity profile,” the researchers wrote. “The concomitant presence of stress with long homework duration is the problematic combination for healthy body weight.” – by Regina Schaffer
Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.