School Grades Go Down When Health Risks Go Up

Release Date: March 26, 2013 | By Sharyn Alden, HBNS Contributing Writer
Research Source: Journal of Adolescent Health


  • Academic performance is linked to health risk behaviors, such as drug use, poor diet and physical inactivity, in children and teens.
  • Improving health and academic performance in children should be viewed as a joint goal.
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Academic performance is linked to risky health behaviors in children and teens, reports a new review in the Journal of Adolescent Health. Health risks that can impact academic success include behaviors tracked by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in young people, such as unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, violence, inappropriate sexual behaviors, and alcohol, drug or tobacco use.

“What this means is as health risk behaviors increase, grades and academic achievement decrease. The reverse is also true as academic achievement decreases, health [risk] behaviors increase,” said the study’s lead author, Beverly Bradley, Ph.D., RN, former clinical professor at the School of Medicine, University of California, San Diego.

Bradley and her colleagues suggest that improving health and academics should be viewed as a composite goal, not as separate goals by individual agencies. “Keep in mind there is no federal effort to address academics and health,” Bradley added.

Researchers used data from 122 articles published between 1985 and 2011, examining the connection between academic achievements and at least one of the CDC-monitored health risk behaviors in young people age 6 to 18. 96.6 percent of the studies found a relationship between these health risk behaviors and academic performance, including grades, standardized test results and high school graduation.

“Anyone who works with children will probably not be surprised by the review’s findings,” noted study author Amy C. Greene, MSSW, MPH, of the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors in Atlanta. “How can we expect our children to stay on task and perform in school when they haven’t eaten, have little or no opportunity for physical activity, are using psychoactive substances or re-experiencing violence? And at the same time, health care providers and agencies that deal with public health perceive that education is not their job and is taken care of by schools.”

Linda M. Grant, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at the Boston School of Medicine, noted, “Child health and academic achievement are two sides of a coin, but it takes both working together to provide child wellness for a community. As it is, we are a society of professionals who work in silos, which is important because this is where like minded people do evidenced-based work. But children and families walk between the silos and that’s where they can get lost.” 

She said the review provides a new approach. “I have spent almost my entire career as a community-based adolescent medicine clinician as well as a consulting physician within a school department. I live with interconnectedness, but I am surprised that it has taken so long for this concept to gain traction. This review provides evidence that it is not just an impression, but a reality.”

TERMS OF USE: This story is protected by copyright. When reproducing any material, including interview excerpts, attribution to the Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health, is required. While the information provided in this news story is from the latest peer-reviewed research, it is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment recommendations. For medical questions or concerns, please consult a health care provider.

For More Information:

Reach CFAH's Health Behavior News Service at or (202) 387-2829.

Journal of Adolescent Health: Contact Tor Berg at (415) 502-1373 or or visit

B.J. Bradley and A.C. Greene, 2013. 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, Journal of Adolescent Health.

Tags for this article:
Health and Education   Diet and Nutrition   Exercise/Physical Activity   Alcohol/Drug Abuse   Evidence-Based Medicine   Promote your Health   Children and Young People's Health   Teen Sexuality/Pregnancy/Contraception  

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