Students who engage in healthy behaviors are substantially more likely to perform better in high school, according to a report just released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survey analyzed the impact of a variety of behaviors, including substance abuse, sexual activity, eating and exercise on academic performance.
Students who ate breakfast every day were more than twice as likely to obtain excellent grades compared to kids who skipped breakfast. This connection was true with physical activity as well. Students who exercised regularly or played on at least one sports team were more likely to achieve high grades. Students who watched three or more hours of television every day were twice as likely to get lower grades.
The association between healthy behaviors and school grades was most evident in the areas of substance abuse and sexual activity. Students who used methamphetamines were nine times more likely to get lower grades, and 11 times more likely to get an F grade if they ever injected an illegal drug. Having sexual intercourse with four or more partners made it four times more likely that a student would get poor grades.
While the report refers to these as “healthy behaviors,” it’s important to note that these were not always the choice of the student. For example, students who were bullied or the victim of sexual dating violence were substantially more likely to get poor grades. Kids who attempted suicide were almost four times more likely to get a D or F grade than other students.
These associations should not be confused with causation. Did kids start taking drugs because they were doing poorly in school, or did their poor school performance occur because of their drug use? What’s clear from this report is that if we want our kids to be successful in school, we need to consider the myriad of factors that affect their academic performance.
Here’s what I’ve learned from this report.
1. Unhealthy kids are poor students. If we want our kids to be successful academically, then we have to focus on non-academic matters as well. Let’s stop arguing about whether that’s the role of the schools, parents, or others. It’s ridiculous to expect kids to acquire academic skills and not deal with these other issues.
2. Focus on what matters. This CDC report is a roadmap to what’s important. The indicators that most highly correlated with academic performance are certain types of substance abuse, sexually risky behavior, violence, and suicide. Let’s integrate these topics into the school curriculum.
Kids who fail in school have a greater likelihood of failing in life. We know what to do. Let’s do what we know.
Next Week: What’s wrong with praising our kids?
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