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Are teachers’ judgements of pupils’ ability influenced by body shape?



Evidence indicates that teachers can judge pupils on the basis of their physical appearance, including their body shape. Teacher bias towards obese pupils has been suggested as a potential pathway through which obese children attain relatively lower academic levels. The aim of this study was to investigate whether teachers’ judgements of pupils’ ability are influenced by the body shape of the child.


The sample includes English, singleton children in state schools from the Millennium Cohort Study. The data were taken from the fourth wave of data collection, when the children were approximately 7 years old. In all, 5086/5072 children had teacher ability ratings of reading and maths. Logistic regression analyses were used to test whether teachers’ perceptions of the child’s reading and mathematics ability were influenced by the pupil’s waist circumference, conditional upon cognitive test scores of reading and maths ability.


After adjustment for cognitive test scores, no significant overall relationship was found between the pupil’s waist circumference and the teacher’s judgements of ability. No statistically significant differences were observed in the probability of being judged as above average after further adjustments were made for potential confounders.


There is little evidence that teachers’ judgements of pupils’ ability are influenced by obesity.

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We are grateful to the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Institute of Education for the use of these data and to the UK Data Archive and Economic and Social Data Service for making them available. The research received no specific funding; however, both authors are recipients of ESRC doctoral training studentships.

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Correspondence to N L Shackleton.

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Shackleton, N., Campbell, T. Are teachers’ judgements of pupils’ ability influenced by body shape?. Int J Obes 38, 520–524 (2014).

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  • paediatrics
  • stereotyping
  • social stigma
  • school teachers

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