Obese girls are half as likely to attend college as non-obese girls, according to a new study from The University of Texas at Austin.
The study also shows obese girls are even less likely to enter college if they attend a high school where obesity is relatively uncommon. The findings appear in the July issue of the journal Sociology of Education.
The study tracked nearly 11,000 American adolescents, using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.
“Obesity has been identified as a serious public health issue, but these results indicate the harmful effects extend far beyond physical health,” said Robert Crosnoe, author of the study and a sociologist at the university.
Crosnoe suggests a number of mental health and behavioral issues seem to play a significant role in keeping obese girls from enrolling in college. The study found obese girls were more likely to consider committing suicide, use alcohol and marijuana and have negative self-images.
The disconnect between obesity and college enrollment was more pronounced among non-whites and among girls whose parents did not graduate from college. Obese boys did not differ from their non-obese peers in college enrollment.
“That girls are far more vulnerable to the non-health risks of obesity reinforces the notion that body image is more important to girls’ self-concept and that social norms have greater effects on the education of girls than boys,” Crosnoe noted.