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Health & Academics

4 students in front of chalkboardThe academic success of America’s youth is strongly linked with their health.

Health-related factors such as hunger, physical and emotional abuse, and chronic illness can lead to poor school performance.1 Health-risk behaviors such as early sexual initiation, violence, and physical inactivity are consistently linked to poor grades and test scores and lower educational attainment.2-4

In turn, academic success is an excellent indicator for the overall well-being of youth and a primary predictor and determinant of adult health outcomes.5-7 Leading national education organizations recognize the close relationship between health and education, as well as the need to foster health and well-being within the educational environment for all students.8-11

Scientific reviews have documented that school health programs can have positive effects on educational outcomes, as well as health-risk behaviors and health outcomes.12-13 Similarly, programs that are primarily designed to improve academic performance are increasingly recognized as important public health interventions.14-15

Schools play a critical role in promoting the health and safety of young people and helping them establish lifelong healthy behaviors. Research also has shown that school health programs can reduce the prevalence of health risk behaviors among young people and have a positive effect on academic performance. CDC analyzes research findings to develop guidelines and strategies for schools to address health risk behaviors among students and creates tools to help schools implement these guidelines.

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Image of bar and pie chartsData & Statistics
Fact sheets and presentations on the link between health and academic achievement

Book cover: The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic PerformanceThe Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance [pdf 2.5M] (Full report) 
Executive Summary [pdf 309K]
Highlights research studies showing how physical activity is related to academic performance

School Connectedness: Strategies for Increasing Protective Factors Among YouthSchool Connectedness: Strategies for Increasing Protective Factors Among Youth
Strategies for school personnel and others to use in helping students' feel more connected to their school


  1. Dunkle MC, Nash MA. Beyond the Health Room. Washington, DC: Council of Chief State School Officers, Resource Center on Educational Equity; 1991.
  2. Carlson SA, Fulton JE, Lee SM, Maynard M, Drown DR, Kohl III HW, Dietz WH. Physical education and academic achievement in elementary school: data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. American Journal of Public Health 2008;98(4):721–727. 
  3. Spriggs AL, Halpern CT. Timing of sexual debut and initiation of postsecondary education by early adulthood. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 2008;40(3):152–161.
  4. Srabstein J, Piazza T.  Public health, safety and educational risks associated with bullying behaviors in American adolescents. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health 2008;20(2):223–233.
  5. Harper S, Lynch J. Trends in socioeconomic inequalities in adult health behaviors among U.S. states, 1990–2004. Public Health Reports 2007;122(2):177–189.
  6. Vernez G, Krop RA, Rydell CP. The public benefits of education. In: Closing the Education Gap: Benefits and Costs [pdf 7.8M]. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation; 1999:13–32.   
  7. National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2010: With Special Feature on Death and Dying. Hyattsville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2011.
  8. Council of Chief State School Officers. Policy Statement on School Health; 2004.
  9. National School Boards Association. Beliefs and Policies of the National School Boards Association [pdf 278K]. Alexandria, VA: National School Boards Association; 2009.
  10. American Association of School Administrators. AASA position statements [pdf 61K]. Position statement 3: Getting children ready for success in school, July 2006; Position statement 18: Providing a safe and nurturing environment for students, July 2007.  
  11. ASCD. Making the Case for Educating the Whole Child [pdf 1.9M]. Alexandria, VA: ASCD; 2011.
  12. Basch CE. Healthier Students Are Better Learners: A Missing Link in School Reforms to Close the Achievement Gap. Equity Matters: Research Review No. 6. New York: Columbia University; 2010.
  13. CDC. The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2010.
  14. Freudenberg N, Ruglis J. Reframing school dropout as a public health issue. Preventing Chronic Disease 2007;4(4):A107.
  15. Muenning P, Woolf SH. Health and economic benefits of reducing the number of students per classroom in US primary schools. American Journal of Public Health 2007;97:2020–2027.


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