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Health & Academics

The academic success of America’s youth is strongly linked with their health.

Healthy Students Are Better Learners

four students by chalkboardHealth-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.2-5

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.6-9

Schools are the Right Place for a Healthy Start

Scientific reviews have documented that school health programs can have positive effects on educational outcomes, as well as health-risk behaviors and health outcomes.10-11 Similarly, programs that are primarily designed to improve academic performance are increasingly recognized as important public health interventions.12-13

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.

Spotlight On

Healthy Kids. Successful Students. Stronger Communities.
Public health and education professionals can use these tools to communicate the link between healthy eating, physical activity, and improved academic achievement to engage stakeholders in supporting healthy school environments.

Health and Academic Achievement Overview [PDF – 2 MB]
Key research, messages, action steps, and resources about the link between health and academic achievement.

Improving Academic Achievement through Healthy Eating and Physical Activity PowerPoint® Presentation [PPT – 21 MB] | [PDF – 1.6 MB]
An accompanying presentation to the Health and Academic Achievement overview for state, district, and school staff. Speaker notes for each slide are included.

Healthy Eating and Academic Achievement Podcast
This podcast highlights the evidence that supports the link between healthy eating and improved academic achievement.

Physical Activity and Academic Achievement Podcast
This podcast highlights the evidence that supports the link between physical activity and improved academic achievement.

Reference list for PowerPoint® Presentation [PDF – 472 KB]
Reference citations for scientific articles cited in the speaker notes

Data & Statistics
Learn more with fact sheets and presentations on the link between health and academic achievement

The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance [PDF - 2.5 MB] (Full report) 

Executive Summary [PDF - 309 KB]
Highlights research studies showing how physical activity is related to academic performance

School 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. MacLellan D, Taylor J, Wood K. Food intake and academic performance among adolescents. Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research 2008;69(3):141-144.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Council of Chief State School Officers. Policy Statement on School Health; 2004.
  7. National School Boards Association. Beliefs and Policies of the National School Boards Association [PDF - 530 KB]. Alexandria, VA: National School Boards Association; 2009.
  8. American Association of School Administrators. AASA position statements [PDF - 61 KB]. 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.  
  9. ASCD. Making the Case for Educating the Whole Child [PDF - 1.9 MB]. Alexandria, VA: ASCD; 2011.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. Freudenberg N, Ruglis J. Reframing school dropout as a public health issue. Preventing Chronic Disease 2007;4(4):A107.
  13. 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.