Are Gifted Kids Healthy?

Hope (Bess) Wilson

Parents worry. Parents worry about school, about social development, about the health of their children. Parents of gifted children worry, too. Perhaps this explains the recent proliferation in my social circles of blog entries, social media posts, and articles written about the health implications of high ability children. As a parent of two children, identified gifted in our local county, and active in both parenting gifted circles and in the research of gifted education, I wanted to know if it could be possible that there was a connection between high ability or achievement and health.

Previous Studies

Even at the foundational moments of the field of gifted education, parents and educators were concerned about the physical health of their smart children. There was a concern that gifted children were scrawny, socially inept, and physically weak, but studies showed the opposite (Terman, 1915; Yildiz et al., 2017); that children with the highest intelligence are active, social, and mentally healthy. However, the myth of the “nerdy” gifted child, who has a host of medical problems, or has a physically weaker disposition, persists.


Realizing that some of this research is from over 100 years ago, and perhaps more modern understandings of intelligence, health, and research methods might provide an update to these findings, I decided to take up this question myself. The National Center for Educational Statistics, part of the Institute for Educational Sciences, collected extensive data from a nationally-representative sample of babies born in the year 2002 as part of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study- Birth Cohort, 2002. These data followed over 10,000 children from birth through their kindergarten year, and thus provides an extensive wealth of information regarding children in the United States. As it sampled children from diverse groups and across the country in systematic ways, we can trust that the findings from research using this database can be generalized to the larger population of children born in 2002, who turn 18 this year. What is really interesting about this approach is that we will be able to make statements about the entire population of preschoolers in the United States, rather than rely on the anecdotal accounts of a few experiences.

This database is great because it includes both academic and cognitive data (like reading and math achievement scores) and health data (like hospitalizations and health records). This allowed me to compare children in the top 5% of math and reading achievement in their pre-kindergarten year to students in the middle 50-55th percentile on a range of outcomes. Specifically, I looked at the reported rates of allergies, asthma, respiratory illness that required hospitalization, and gastrointestinal illness that require hospitalization between the two groups. This allowed me to answer directly the question of whether or not precocious kids reported any increased prevalence of health problems.


Children who were in the top 5% in mathematics achievement were not more likely to have allergies or asthma, and actually less likely to be hospitalized for respiratory illness than children in the middle range. Similarly, children who were in the top 5% of reading achievement were no more likely to have respiratory illnesses, and they were less likely to have allergies or asthma. For both groups, there was a very small increase in likelihood for gastrointestinal illness that required hospitalization. However, this tiny increase might be due to other factors, like an increased likelihood of having health insurance or parents who are doctors.

A few technical notes about this research, when looking for the relationships between health and achievement, I also considered and controlled for the socioeconomic status of the families, the gender of the child, and the race of the child, which are all factors that have been known to have an effect on achievement. In doing this we can be more confident that differences in family socioeconomic status do not explain the lack of any health differences. Additionally, I acknowledge that achievement is not synonymous with ability or intelligence. Certainly, even in early childhood testing, the children with the greatest access to educational opportunities and learning will achieve at higher levels than those with less access to instruction.

Bottom Line

So, what does this mean? As I read more blog posts about the “sensitivities” of the gifted child being linked to increased likelihood of allergies, “gut” issues, or other health problems, I can be reasonably assured, as a parent, that my gifted children are no more at risk than other children. Gifted kids still have health issues! They stiff suffer from allergies, but at no greater rate than “typical” kids. Too often the debate seems to be between people who believe gifted kids are at increased risk vs. those who believe they are at decreased risk. But that is not what my work or past research shows (Yildiz et al., 2017). Overall, the risk of many health problems appears roughly equal regardless of ability or achievement. Parents of gifted children, rest easy tonight, this study shows (once again) that there is no connection between increased achievement and poor health.

About the Author: Hope (Bess) E. Wilson is an associate professor of education at the University of North Florida where she teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in assessment, educational psychology, and statistics.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of NAGC


Terman, L.M. (1915). The mental hygiene of exceptional children. Pedagogical Seminary, 22529-537.

Wilson, H. E., & Mann, A. R. (2019, March). Twice-exceptionality in early childhood academically talented children using the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Birth Cohort. Roundtable presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Toronto, ON.

Yıldız., S., Altay, N. & Kılıcarslan-Toruner E. (2017). Health, care and family problems in gifted children: A literature review. Journal for the Education of Gifted Young Scientists, 5(3), 15-24. DOI: