Health and Academics
Healthy students are better learners, and academic achievement bears a lifetime of benefits for health. Recent research illustrates that higher academic grades are associated with more positive individual and cumulative health behaviors among high school students. However, youth risk behaviors, such as physical inactivity, unhealthy dietary behaviors, tobacco use, alcohol use, and other drug use are consistently linked to poor grades and test scores and lower educational attainment.1
School programs can use the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model to promote positive health behaviors and lessen negative health behaviors. Looking beyond the classroom and into community organizations and other public or private partnerships can also reduce inequalities in educational achievement and health outcomes.9
School programs that account for the individual, family, school, and community can positively influence both student health behaviors and learning.2,3 Evidence-based, effectively coordinated, and strategically planned school health programs and services are also necessary for closing the academic achievement gap and promoting health equity.4, 10
Research shows a strong connection between healthy behaviors and academic achievement (e.g., grades, standardized tests, graduation rates, attendance).5-10 Data from the 2019 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) illustrate the prevalence of health behaviors among children and adolescents that can have a significant impact on learning and a lifetime of healthier living.
- Dietary Behaviors and Academic Grades
- Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviors and Academic Grades
- Tobacco Product Use Behaviors and Academic Grades
- Alcohol Use Behaviors and Academic Grades
- Other Behaviors and Conditions and Academic Grades
Explore the 2019 YRBS questions, tables, and graphs here.
- Individual and Collective Positive Health Behaviors and Academic Achievement Among U.S. High School Students, Youth Risk Behavior Survey 2017
- CDC MMWR: Health-related behaviors and academic achievement among high school students, United States, 2015 [PDF – 180 KB]
- Healthy Youth: Health and Academics Fact Sheets
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Promoting Positive Adolescent Health Behaviors and Outcomes: Thriving in the 21st Century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. 2020. https://doi.org/10.17226/25552.
- Basch CE. Healthier students are better learners: High-quality, strategically planned, and effectively coordinated school health programs must be a fundamental mission of schools to help close the achievement gap. J Sch Health. 2011;81(10):650–662. doi:10.1111/j.1746-1561.2011.00640.x.
- Michael SL, Merlo CL, Basch CE, Wentzel KR, Wechsler H. Critical connections: Health and academics. J Sch Health. 2015;85(11):740–758. doi:10.1111/josh.12309.
- 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 Adolesc Heal. 2017;52(5):523–532. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2013.01.008.
- Busch V, Loyen A, Lodder M, Schrijvers AJP, van Yperen TA, de Leeuw JRJ. The effects of adolescent health-related behavior on academic performance: A systematic review of the longitudinal evidence. Rev Educ Res. 2014;84(2):245–274. doi:10.3102/0034654313518441.
- Basch CE. Healthier students are better learners: A missing link in school reforms to close the achievement gap. J Sch Health. 2011;81(10):593–598. doi:10.1111/j.1746-1561.2011.00632.x.
- Rasberry CN, Tiu GF, Kann L, McManus T, et al. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health-related behaviors and academic achievement among high school students, United States, 2015. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) Full Report. 2017.
- Hawkins GT, Lee SH, Michael SL, Merlo CL, Lee SM, King BA, Rasberry C, Underwood JM. Individual and collective positive health behaviors and academic achievement among U.S. high school students, Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2017. Am J Health Promot. 2021; 3: 1-11.
- Liburd LC. After the Bell Rings: Looking Beyond the Classroom to Reduce Inequalities in Educational Achievement and Health Outcomes. J Public Health Manag Pract. 2019;25(6):581-583. doi:10.1097/PHH.0000000000000978
- Hahn RA, Truman BI. Education Improves Public Health and Promotes Health Equity. Int J Health Serv. 2015;45(4):657-678. doi:10.1177/0020731415585986