Posted by jlwile on October 21, 2013
I have written several articles on the academic benefits of homeschooling (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). However, the benefits go far beyond academics. Homeschooled students are, on average, better socialized than their peers. They are more actively engaged in their faith than their peers, and they are more satisfied with life than their peers.1 They even sleep better than their peers!
Adding to that list of benefits, a recent study shows that homeschooled children are less likely to be obese than their peers.2 The study compared 47 homeschooled and 48 traditionally-school children, age 7-12. They measured the children’s fat mass, trunk fat, total body fat, and physical activity. They also asked the children what they had been eating. The researchers found that the homeschooled children had lower values in all three fat measurements. In addition, the homeschooled children reported better diets. As the title of the article aptly puts it:
Home-schooled children are thinner, leaner, and report better diets relative to traditionally schooled children
What was the main difference between the eating habits of the two groups? Not surprisingly, it was lunch. The traditionally-schooled children ate a lot more calories, sodium, and sugar at lunch than the homeschooled children did. Since lunch is the most likely meal to be eaten at school, the take-home message here is that the traditionally-schooled children are not being fed poorly by their parents. They are being fed poorly by their school.
Now this isn’t surprising to me at all. On average, parents are significantly better caregivers for their children than any government entity. However, it was surprising to some, including the study’s lead author! She said:
Based on previous research, we went into this study thinking home-schooled children would be heavier and less active than kids attending traditional schools…We found the opposite.
I am not sure what “previous research” she is referring to, but I can’t imagine anyone who is familiar with home education thinking that homeschooled children would be heavier and less active than traditionally-schooled children. Homeschooled children are fed every meal by people who love them and want the very best for them. In addition, homeschooling parents typically make a lot of financial sacrifices to homeschool their children, so in the end, they have less money than parents who send their children to school. As a result, they have to be more frugal in their meals, and that usually leads to healthier eating habits.
Now there was one surprising result in the study. The researchers saw no real difference in activity level between the two groups. Since homeschoolers are so efficient in their education, most homeschoolers get through more education than traditional schools in a significantly shorter amount of time. As a result, I would think that homeschooled children have more time to run and play than traditionally-schooled children. However, the study says there is no real difference in their activity levels, so traditionally-schooled children must play harder during recess and after school to make up for the extra sitting they do during the school day.
I do hope more studies are done on homeschooling and health, because based on my experience, I would expect homeschooled children to be significantly healthier than their traditionally-schooled peers. Not only do they eat better (as this study shows), but they also aren’t around nearly as many germs. In addition, they are probably under less daily stress. I would expect these differences to lead to noticeably healthier children in the homeschooled population.
1. Brian Ray, Home Educated and Now Adults:Their Community and Civic Involvement, Views About Homeschooling, and Other Traits, NHERI Publications, 2004
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2. Michelle Cardel, Amanda L. Willig, Akilah Dulin-Keita, Krista Casazza, Andrea Cherrington, Thrudur Gunnarsdottir, Susan L. Johnson, John C. Peters, James O. Hill, David B. Allison, and José R. Fernández, “Home-schooled children are thinner, leaner, and report better diets relative to traditionally schooled children,” Obesity DOI:10.1002/oby.20610, 2013
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