Health and Academic Achievement: An International Perspective

August 09, 2011

By Rochelle Davis, HSC President & CEO

In April, Healthy Schools Campaign hosted a forum on health disparities and their impact on the minority achievement gap. We heard from Dr. Charles Basch, who pointed out that health disparities and wellness have been largely overlooked in efforts to improve student success and learning. He focused on seven educationally relevant disparities: vision, asthma, teen pregnancy, aggression and violence, lack of physical activity, nutrition and breakfast and ADHD, and successfully makes the case for schools to adopt strategies to address this issue.  

I was interested to see that recently, the World Health Organization released a report on the same topic but from an international perspective.  

The researchers reviewed 53 studies which looked at the impact of student health on educational outcomes in high-income countries. Based on the evidenced reviewed, they found the following:

  • Overall child health status positively affects educational performance and attainment. For example, one study found that very good or better health in childhood was linked to a third of a year more in school; another concluded that the probability of sickness significantly affected academic success: sickness before age 21 decreased education on average by 1.4 years.
  • The evidence indicates that the negative effect on educational outcomes of poor nutrition or smoking is greater than that of alcohol consumption or drug use.
  • Initial research has found a significant positive impact of physical exercise on academic performance.
  • Obesity and overweight are associated negatively with educational outcomes.
  • Sleeping disorders can hinder academic performance.
  • Particularly under-researched, especially considering their growing significance, is the effect of anxiety and depression on educational outcomes.

Research continues to show what educators and parents around the world know: healthy students are better prepared to learn and achieve at school.

You can view the full report here.

Bonus! Rochelle is featured as a children's health champion in Everyday Health's spotlight series! For more resources, visit their Everyday Health Kid's Health center.