Health & Academics

The academic success of America’s youth is strongly linked with their health, and is one way to predict adult health outcomes.

Healthy students are better learners

health and academics collage

Health-risk behaviors such as early sexual initiation, violence, and substance use are consistently linked to poor grades and test scores and lower educational attainment.1-5

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.6-8 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.9-12

Schools are the Right Place for a Healthy Start

Schools play a critical role in promoting the health and safety of young people and helping them establish lifelong healthy behaviors. Research shows that school health programs reduce the prevalence of health risk behaviors among youth and have a positive effect on academic performance.13 CDC analyzes research findings to develop strategies for schools to address health risk behaviors among students and creates tools to help schools implement these strategies.

Health & Academics: What the Research Says

Compared to students who received mostly As, those who reported receiving mostly Ds and Fs were:
More than 11 times more likely to have injected illegal drugs
More than 4 times more likely to have had four or more sexual partners
5 times more likely to miss school because of safety concerns
2 times more likely to feel sad or hopeless

Source: CDC. Health-Related Behaviors and Academic Achievement Among High School Students — United States, 2015. MMWR 2017;66:921–927.

Download the infographic

YRBS banner

Data from the 2019 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) illustrate the prevalence of health behaviors among youth can have a significant impact on learning.



Back to School Facebook Live: Health & Academics (September 2017)
CDC experts Dr. Catherine Rasberry and Dr. Georgianne Tiu speak about the connection between teen health and academic achievement.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Rasberry CN, Tiu GF, Kann L, McManus T, Michael SL, Merlo CL, Lee SM, Bohm MK, Annor F, Ethier K. Health-related behaviors and academic achievement among high school students—United States, 2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2917;66:922-927.
  5. Bradley BJ, Greene AC. Do health and education agencies in the United States share responsibility for academic achievement and health? A review of 25 years of evidence about the relationship of adolescents’ academic achievement and health behaviors. J Adoles Health 2013;52:523-532.
  6. 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.
  7. Vernez G, Krop RA, Rydell CP. The public benefits of education. In: Closing the Education Gap: Benefits and Costs. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation; 1999:13–32.
  8. 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.
  9. Council of Chief State School Officers. Policy Statement on School Health; 2004.
  10. National School Boards Association. Beliefs and Policies of the National School Boards Association. Alexandria, VA: National School Boards Association; 2017.
  11. American Association of School Administrators. AASA position statements. 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.
  12. ASCD. Making the Case for Educating the Whole Child. Alexandria, VA: ASCD; 2011.
  13. Murray NG, Low BJ, Hollis C, Cross AW, Davis SM. Coordinated school health programs and academic achievement: A systematic review of the literature. J Sch Health 2007;77:589-600.