A child's academic ability is more likely to be perceived as below average if their mother is obese, a new Irish study suggests.
Researchers at NUI Galway and Queens University Belfast used data from the Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) study, which is an ongoing study involving over 8,500 children from 900 schools throughout Ireland.
It found that the body mass index (BMI) of a child's mother may influence teachers' perceptions of that child's academic ability.
In fact, children whose mothers were obese were more likely to be rated by their teachers as below average in maths and reading compared to those whose mothers were leaner, after what the child had achieved in actual test scores was taken into account.
"The study found a significant relationship between a mother's BMI and the probability of the child's ability being assessed as below average by their teacher. This is potentially worrisome and clearly indicates the need for further research," commented Michelle Queally, a post-doctoral research fellow at NUI Galway.
The researchers said that these findings are consistent with other studies which show that obese people, particularly women, may face certain disadvantages in different areas of life.
They pointed out that the potential for a mother's weight to influence teachers' assessments of their children's perceived ability could have long-term ramifications for educational outcomes, given the role of teachers in examination marking.
The researchers acknowledged that this study does not provide definitive proof that teachers stereotype children based on an assessment of their mother's obesity, however they believe it is an area that warrants more research.
Details of these findings are published in the journal, Economics and Human Biology.
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