Benefiting America’s Youth
April 12, 2012
by Jeff Levi
NEA Health Information Network Blog
Studies show a healthy student gets better grades, is more likely to attend school, stays out of trouble and is more ready to learn. Educators know this from first-hand experience.
Consequently, it is incredibly important to find ways to help schools and educators help kids be healthier and more active. Solutions need to be considered within the context of all of requirements and responsibilities already placed on schools.
In order to do that, we need to educate policymakers about the connection between health and learning – and ways we can help improve health that either fit within existing programs or structures or add new resources or that do both.
We need to first let our policymakers know this is a problem. We need to communicate that right now, today’s youth are on a course to be the first generation to live less healthy, shorter lives than their parents. But that if we work together, we can help turn that around.
In order to ensure that the future generation of America is happy, healthy and productive, it is imperative to push for policies that address our nation’s challenges and support prevention. In addition to broad policies, health and wellness should be a focus of classrooms, schools and school districts. Education officials have always played an important role in supporting prevention, especially through promoting nutritious foods, physical activity and health education.
Some of the latest research that can help policymakers understand the connection between positive school performance and health includes:
- The U.S. National Library of Medicine published a study, Effect of physical education and activity levels on academic achievement in children, that found that students who met the recommendations of Health People 2010 guidelines for vigorous activity got higher grades;
In 2008, the American Journal of Public Health published Physical Education and Academic Achievement in Elementary School: Data From the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which observed a “small but significant benefit for academic achievement in mathematics and reading…for girls enrolled in higher amounts of physical education;”
- Physical fitness and academic achievement in third- and fifth-grade students, identified a positive relationship between “filed tests of physical fitness” and academic achievement; and
- The Journal of School Health published Diet Quality and Academic Performance, which found that “students with decreased overall diet quality were significantly more likely to perform poorly.”
In addition, local school-based programs have helped to increase physical activity, encourage healthy eating and teach healthy lifestyle choices across the nation – resulting not only in improved academic outcomes but also in better long-term health outcomes.
- While recess and other outlets have been scaled back recently to focus on more academic time, studies have shown that this potentially hinders attainment. In 2009, Pediatrics published a study, School Recess and Group Classroom Behavior, of 11,000 third-graders. The study looked at children who had little or no daily recess and those that had more than 15 minutes of recess per day. The children who had greater access to recess behaved better and were likelier to learn more.
- A 2010 Gallop Poll of almost 2,000 elementary school principals nationwide found support for recess as a way to benefit students in school and life. In fact, four out of five principals report that recess has a positive impact on academic achievement; two-thirds of principals report that students listen better after recess and are more focused in class; and almost everyone surveyed believe recess has a positive impact on children’s social development and general well-being.
In Part II of this series, Dr. Levi will discuss recommendations and steps that can be taken by policymakers to help the education system better integrate health into school and after-school activities to ensure students have the opportunity to learn and be healthy and active.
View the full story (some sites require registration)