A Brief Review of “Home-Schooled Children are Thinner, Leaner, and Report Better Diets …” by Cardel et al.

PERSPECTIVES – News and Comments1

A Brief Review of “Home-Schooled Children are Thinner, Leaner, and Report Better Diets …”by Cardel et al.

 Brian D. Ray

National Home Education Research Institute, Salem, Oregon, USA

Keywords: home-schooled, health, diets, children

News headlines recently declared things like “traditionally schooled students more obese” and “home schooled students leaner” (Home schooled children leaner, 2013; Rivas, 2013). Regardless of whether one is a fan of home-based education, readers should be careful before jumping to many conclusions about the connections between physical health and form of education.

In a careful study, Michele Cardel and her research colleagues (Cardel, Willig, Dulin-Keita, Casazza, Cherrington, Gunnarsdottir, Johnson, Peters, Hill, Allison, & Fernández, 2013) compared the relationships among diet, physical activity, and adiposity between homeschooled children (HSC) and traditionally schooled children (TSC). Participants were 95 children aged 7-12 years and who self-identified as non-Hispanic white who were recruited in Birmingham, Alabama. Researchers adjusted statistics for the socioeconomic status of the students. Among other things they did well, the scholars were careful to point out the limitations of their study.

The main finding that was reported the most by media follows: “Contrary to our hypotheses, TSC reported significantly higher energy intakes (both daily and at lunchtime meals), poorer diet quality, and higher levels of adiposity when compared to HSC …” (p. 6). In other words, the children attending conventional schools ingested more calories and were more obese than home-educated children.

All parents (and any other concerned person) should keep in mind, however, the researchers’ findings that received less attention by the media and therefore the general public. First, both HSC and TSC were consuming more calories than needed based on the daily energy need requirements outlined in Dietary Guidelines for Americans. “Significantly” more energy intake by TSC means only that it was a “statistically significant” difference, not that it was a large practical difference in caloric intake by students in conventional schools.

Second, the researchers found this: “Robust measures of physical activity for 7 days indicated that there were no differences in time spent engaged in moderate to physical activity between HSC and TSC. This is consistent with …” other research (p. 6). That is, the homeschool students were doing no more physical activity.

Third, Cardel et al. reported the following: “Higher intakes of calcium in the traditional school group, however, are beneficial and could be protective against the development of obesity …, though neither group is reaching current recommendations for daily calcium intakes …” (p. 6).

It appears that parents of both conventional school and homeschool students need to work more diligently to engage their children in more physical activity, eating fewer calories, and overall better diets. And one must wonder – when more than one-third (34.9%) of U.S. adults were obese in 2011–2012 and the prevalence of obesity was higher among middle-aged adults (39.5%), that is, those with school-age children, than among younger (30.3%) or older (35.4%) adults” (Ogden,  Carroll, Kit, & Flegal, 2013) – What are parents modelling to their children?

The researchers in this study made the following clear: “Large, longitudinal research studies are needed to further identify the etiology of the observed disparities in obesity-related variables between HSC and TSC” (p. 7). Even if further research finds that the home educated are less often obese, no parent should fall for the notion that simply homeschooling one’s child will make him or her leaner and physically stronger.


Cardel, Michelle; Willig, Amanda L.;  Dulin-Keita, Akilah; Casazza, Krista; Cherrington, Andrea; Gunnarsdottir, Thrudur; Johnson, Susan L.; Peters, John C.; Hill, James O. Hill; Allison, David B. Allison; Fernández, José R. (2013). Home-schooled children are thinner, leaner, and report better diets relative to traditionally schooled children. Obesity: A Research Journal, 21.

Home schooled children leaner than traditionally schooled kids. (2013, October 17). Retrieved January 7, 2014 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131017111406.htm.

Ogden, Cynthia L.; Carroll, Margaret D.; Kit, Brian K. Kit; Flegal, Katherine M. (2013). Prevalence of Obesity Among Adults: United States, 2011–2012. Washington, DC: U.S. Department Of Health And Human Services, Centers For Disease Control And Prevention. Retrieved November 29, 2013 from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db131.htm.

Rivas, Anthony. 2013, October 20. Traditionally schooled students more obese than home schoolers. Retrieved January 7, 2014 from http://www.medicaldaily.com/traditionally-schooled-students-more-obese-home-schoolers-are-school-lunches-blame-260398.


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