By Margarita Nahapetyan
According to the surprising findings of a new study by U.S. investigators, chewing sugarless gum during class and while doing homework can have a positive effect on academic performance in teenagers. The research was funded by the William Wrigley Jr. Co., the Chicago-based chewing gum giant. However, scientists from the Baylor College of Medicine say that this fact did not influence the study's design or its results.
Study leader Craig A. Johnston of the Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and his colleagues studied more than 100 eighth-grade students, 52 girls and 56 boys, aged between 13 and 16 years, in four math classes. The experts randomly assigned teenagers into two groups: one group was asked to chew Wrigley's sugar-free gum during class, while doing homework, and also while performing a standardized test. They chewed at least one stick of gum 86 per cent of the time they were in math class and 36 per cent of the time they were doing homework. The participants of the other group did not chew gum.
Johnston and team found that 14 weeks later, the gum chewers had a 3 per cent increase in their math scores on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills achievement test, a small but statistically significant change, according to experts. There was no difference found in math scores between the participants in the two groups in another test called the Woodcock Johnson III Tests of Achievement. However, the experiment revealed that gum-chewers had better final grades in the class compared to their non-chewing peers. According to Johnston, chewing gum reduces stress and anxiety as well as it increases arousal.
It is for the first time ever that we have been able to show in a real-life kind of situation that students did perform better when they were allowed to chew gum, said Gil Leveille, executive director of the Wrigley Science Institute, a researcher at William Wrigley Jr. Co., which is now a part of Mars Inc. Leveille said that Wrigley has gotten feedback from many of its gum users who say that chewing gum helps them stay focused and concentrated. Based on this, 4 years ago, the company started the science institute in order to see if some of these claims have merit.
The Wrigley Science Institute says that its studies and research are focused on investigating the effect of chewing gum on focus, alertness, concentration, situational stress, weight control and oral health. According to them, the study is really meaningful and should raise interest in parents "when related to small steps that can lead to better academic performance."
The new study is being built on previous research that was conducted in a laboratory setting and showed that gum chewing can help reduce stress, improve alertness and relieve anxiety. The current findings, for the first time, provide a possible role for chewing gum in helping to improve academic performance in a "real life" classroom setting. And what is the most important part, according to Wrigley, it is chewing gum and not a particular brand that leads to better scores and reduced stress.
The study has been presented in the "Late Breaking" Poster Session at the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) Scientific Sessions and Annual Meeting at Experimental Biology 2009.