When students' home and school environments support their physical health and well-being, they perform better academically, the researchers found, so programs in and out of the classroom to promote healthy behavior may be a smart investment.
The study looked at survey results and district test scores of 940 fifth- and sixth-grade students attending 12 randomly selected schools in New Haven, Conn., a poor and ethnically diverse city.
Researchers also assessed the students' physical fitness three to six months before they were tested and again after the scores of the standardized tests were released.
Students with environments that supported their physical health were more likely to reach their target scores in reading, writing and math. They were more than twice as likely to achieve this academic success than students whose environments supported their health the least, the investigators found. However, the study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The study, published online recently in the Journal of School Health, revealed health factors that were linked to improved test scores in the children, including the following:
- Not having a television in the bedroom
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Being physically fit
- Having access to healthy foods
- Rarely eating fast food
- Not drinking sugary drinks, such as soda
- Getting enough sleep
"Many urban families sadly face the harsh challenges of persistent poverty," study lead author Jeannette Ickovics, a professor of epidemiology and psychology at Yale University, said in a Yale news release.
"Health and social disparities, including academic achievement, are increasing," said Ickovics, also director of the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement, a research program at the Yale School of Public Health.
"One way to reduce disparities and close the equity gaps in health and education is to coordinate community and family-based efforts with comprehensive school-based approaches," she concluded in the news release.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about the link between health and academic success.