Are homeschooled kids heavier than public school kids?
Do public school kids have a higher chance than homeschoolers of being obese?
These questions were not on my mind at all when I started homeschooling my three kids.
I pulled them from public school with the hopes of giving them a high quality, customized, Bible based education that would set them up for success.
After yeas of homeschooling, I noticed one day that I had never seen an overweight homeschooled kid in our co-op.
All of the kids were lined up outside in a hallway and I suddenly realized with wonder that not one of them looked even a little heavy.
Then I thought of our previous (much larger) co-op and could only think of one kid out of well over 100 that was overweight.
Before I was a homeschooling mom, I was a registered nurse who worked in the biggest Emergency Room in the state of Colorado.
I was acutely aware of the dangers of childhood obesity and at one time had considered switching out of the Emergency Room to work in that area of healthcare.
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Obesity – and childhood obesity – really pulls on my heart strings as I think of all the difficulties of life that lay ahead for people who struggle in that area.
I also tend to notice overweight kids, because I used to be one myself. I often see myself in those kids and my heart goes out to them.
I looked up the statistics and the CDC states that between the ages of 2-19, childhood obesity is 18.5%.
That would mean that I should have seen 18 overweight kids at our co-op (of over 100 kids)….and I only remember seeing one.
Again, my nurse mind and science degree was fascinated to think about this and whether there was a reason for my observations.
I was pretty shocked to run a google search and find there was a study done by the University of Colorado Denver that was featured in Obesity Magazine.
The study compared homeschool kids and traditionally schooled kids from ages 7-12 and required parents to send in information on activity levels and diet.
The researchers admit to having a bias going in:
“…we went into this study thinking home-schooled children would be heavier and less active than kids attending traditional schools,” said Michelle Cardel, PhD, RD, the study’s lead author.
They were surprised to find that the homeschooled kids were leaner and more healthy across the board.
Researchers were stumped by this, but pointed to school lunches as being the likely culprit. According to the paper, the lunches were very high in calories and full of sugar and salt.
I looked at that and somewhat agreed, but then I thought about my oldest daughter’s short time in public school and I tend to think there are other reasons that homeschoolers are leaner
As you probably know, there is a link between lack of sleep and weight gain.
I can remember many times having to wake up my little kindergartner, quickly dress her in her uniform, put her in our minivan while it was still dark outside, and drop her off at school by 7:30am.
That is early!
I was pretty good about getting my kids to sleep before 8pm, but they apparently still needed extra sleep sometimes.
Now that they are homeschooled, they can sleep as late as they need to – such a luxury that our whole family doesn’t take for granted.
Increased stress is also a pretty big culprit for weight gain.
And I don’t think you can argue that homeschooled kids are less stressed than the average public schooled kid.
They can sleep in as mentioned above.
There is no reason to rush in the morning.
There are usually no tests and no homework.
There are no bullies or other social pressures in the classroom.
They are encouraged to learn about what they love, and enjoy the learning process while surrounded with people who love them.
Most homeschool moms take the time to customize their curriculum and timelines to match the learning styles and pace of their students.
Some of my kids want to eat first thing in the morning, and some of them really don’t.
With homeschooling, it is much easier to let your kids follow and honor their natural body cues to eat when they’re hungry.
I have noticed that my kids naturally eat small meals throughout the day – something they couldn’t do in public school.
I also have one eater who takes her sweet time to eat. It irritates me sometimes, but I also appreciate that she hasn’t learned to rush the eating process.
She is tasting and enjoying her food at her own pace – not something afforded to a lot of traditionally schooled kids.
Yes, there are days we are rushing out the door (usually on our co-op morning), but for the most part we eat our meals at home.
Anybody who has ever tried to eat healthier knows that it is pretty difficult to find palatable, healthy foods that you can eat on the go. Which is why most people end up falling back on pre packaged, processed foods (Looking at you, Lunchables).
Now, we definitely have processed foods in our house, but being at home makes it much easier to feed my kids healthier options like smoothies, fresh fruit, oatmeal, eggs, salads, and dinner leftovers.
I will never forget when my daughter came home and asked me to make her a marshmallow fluff sandwich on white bread like her friend Vanessa.
I nearly threw up right there!
A marshmallow sandwich for lunch?!
I thought she was making it up, but I came to find that little Vanessa really did eat marshmallow sandwiches.
That’s hard to compete with.
My kid was happy to eat things like nuts, cottage cheese, raisins, veggies and fruit at home…but her lunch box started coming back to me still full.
Over time she stopped eating tomatoes, bananas, apples, steamed veggies, and pretty soon she wouldn’t eat any fruits or veggies!
I talked to her about it and came to realize that kids at the lunch table thought fruits and veggies were gross…so if you ate that stuff…you were gross.
Trust me, I didn’t decide to homeschool for that reason, but it is nice that after years of not eating in a lunch room, my daughter is happy to make spinach salads at 10am for a snack.
Everybody seems to have a smart watch these days.
I am told that they remind people to get up and move every so often because they have been too sedentary.
I would be really interested to know what would happen if you put those watches on traditionally schooled kids.
I remember sitting a lot when I was in school. Classes are small rooms for 25 kids to be able to get up and move around every hour.
P.E. was only twice a week and recess was once a day for 15-30 minutes as I recall.
Research is now showing us that standing up multiple times an hour is critical for decreased weight and overall well being.
Homeschool kids have a huge advantage of being able to move a lot.
First of all, their school day is much shorter and they don’t have homework to do when they get home.
It is also much less distracting for them to stand up, move around, take breaks, and run outside to play while mom is working with a different kid.
Most traditionally schooled kids spend a majority of time at school and not with their parents.
Which means that they are learning a lot of their eating habits from other kids at the lunch table. The kind of eating habits that tend to promote pizza, soda, Doritos, and Oreos.
In the same respect, I have found that my homeschool kids are learning a lot from noticing everything I do and eat throughout the day.
It has actually caused me to challenge myself to eat more vegetables and whole foods, because I know my kids are watching me.
I also started incorporating morning stretches and calisthenics into our morning routine. I want them to grow up thinking exercise and fitness is a normal part of their life, the same as brushing their teeth.
I can’t imagine that would be possible if we were in a public school routine.
So there I was talking to another homeschool mom at my co op about all of these observations, theories, and research I had been reading.
I was shocked to find out that one of her kids used to be obese (he was 95th percentile by BMI charts) and she was concerned about him.
She said that they pulled him from public school for a number of reasons – having nothing to do with his weight.
Overtime, she and her husband stopped worrying about his weight though.
He was even able to wear the same shirts several years in a row as she noticed his belly was flattening out – not getting bigger.
She was relieved, but chalked it up to weight fluctuations and maybe growth spurts.
That was until her doctor handed her a printout at his yearly well child check up.
There was a line graph that showed his BMI from when he started homeschooling (95th percentile) to where it was currently (78th percentile) and it was well within the healthy range.
I was fascinated and so thankful she gave me permission to tell this story.
I want to be super clear, as I know this can be a really controversial and painful subject to talk about.
I am not saying that you should homeschool your kids as a weight loss plan.
I am not saying that all homeschooled kids are going to be lean – I am sure there are exceptions.
I am not saying that all public school kids are obese or unhealthy – that would be ridiculous and untrue.
I am also not saying homeschoolers are superior to traditionally schooled kids. I know and love many public school kids, who I know will grow up to do great things.
Childhood obesity is a serious and heartbreaking issue in our society today.
Research (not me) indicates that traditionally schooled kids are more likely to be overweight.
Why they are more likely to be overweight is not proven, but since I have had kids in public and homeschool – I see a lot of threads to pull that would explain the research.
I look at my own three kids, who are all at healthy weights according to the doctor, and I see an interesting trend that supports all of the above.
Because my kids would be hard pressed to find a relative on either side of their family who has not struggled with weight in the past or currently.
Their genetics are against them.
When I was the same age as my oldest daughter, a little girl had already said to me, “My mom says you’re fat.” I’ll never forget it.
I look at my healthy and happy little homeschoolers today and I wonder if I unknowingly helped to rewrite what could have been their story.
Maybe homeschooling is helping to “rearrange their stars” and help them start life with healthier habits that will carry them into adulthood.
I want to draw your attention to this unexpected benefit of homeschooling that you are providing your kids!
I commend you for making the sacrifices you make every day to make homeschooling possible for your family.
I would also warn you that all this research could go the other way on you.
Are you fully taking advantage of all health benefits homeschooling offers?
We all have areas that we can improve (myself definitely included!).
I encourage you to fully capitalize on the power and influence you have as a homeschool parent. You can set your kid up for success in many more ways than academic!
This is a homeschooling blog that has a focus on helping parents decide about homeschooling and getting them started on their homeschool journey…so yeah I’m going to encourage you to look at homeschooling your child.
If you just rolled your eyes into the back of your head, I totally get it.
It has a lot of answers to the questions that you’re probably wrestling with.
If homeschooling is out of the question, again, I totally get it. It’s not for everybody.
But I encourage you also to capitalize on the power you wield as a parent.
Think about what you can do in your situation to set your children up for a happy and healthy future.
There is a lot you can do to change your kids’ stars too!
I would love to hear your comments, thoughts, and experiences on all of these complicated issues.
Pop down to the comments and keep the conversation going!
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