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Math + Chewing Gum = Better Grades?

Chewing Gum Might Make Teachers Frown but It Improves Academic Performance, Study Says
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 23, 2009 -- Chewing sugarless gum during class and while doing homework may improve academic performance of adolescents, a new study says.

The research was underwritten by the William Wrigley Jr. Co., the Chicago-based chewing gum giant, but scientists from the Baylor College of Medicine say that didn’t influence the study’s design or its outcome.

And scientists who had nothing to do with the study say it’s likely that chewing gum can reduce stress, leading to enhanced concentration and thus better academic performance.

The results of the study, by Craig Johnston, PhD, an instructor of pediatrics-nutrition at the Baylor College of Medicine, and colleagues are were at the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition’s Scientific Sessions and Annual Meeting at Experimental Biology 2009.

Johnston and his team enlisted 108 eighth-grade students in four math classes, randomly assigning them to two groups: one group chewed Wrigley’s sugar-free gum during school, while doing homework, and also while taking a standardized test; students in the control group didn’t chew gum.

Johnston tells WebMD that students who chewed gum showed an increase in standardized math test scores after 14 weeks of chomping in class and while doing homework, compared to those who didn’t chew.

Gum chewing was associated with a 3% increase in standardized math scores, which Johnston terms small but still “statistically significant.”

The youngsters who chewed also had final math grades that were “significantly better” than those who didn’t chew, Johnston says.

The participants included 52 girls and 56 boys. The gum chewers reported chewing at least one stick of gum 86% of the time they were in math class and 36% of the time they were doing homework. Johnston says that chewing gum reduces stress and anxiety and increases arousal.

“Some researchers speculate that a decreased level of stress leads to better focus and concentration, which may explain the relationship between gum chewing and increased focus and concentration,” Johnston says. He adds that the study “demonstrates the potential benefits of chewing gum on academic performance in a real-life, classroom setting with teenagers.”

He says more research is needed to determine whether chewing would help people in other subjects, such as English and history, “but this is an exciting first step.”

Daniel Moran, PhD, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, says the results are plausible but that he needs more convincing, especially since the study was funded by a chewing gum company.

“It makes sense that if it’s acting as a stress reliever, it is making you smarter,” he tells WebMD after reading Johnston’s abstract. “I’d like to know more about the brain mechanism that’s affecting this.”

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