Healthy Children Learn Better

By Ginny Ehrlich

Looking to improve student achievement? Consider this: How healthy are your students?    Healthy children learn better -- few statements in education are as unequivocal. We know this on a common-sense level, and the data backs it up. Research suggests that students’ health and learning are inextricably linked. Studies also have shown that school health programs can boost students’ academic performance and improve behavior and attendance.

So, efforts to increase student achievement should include a focus on health. School health programs and board policies can address physical activity and healthy eating -- two areas that are particularly important in light of the obesity epidemic in the U.S. One in three children and adolescents is already overweight or obese, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports. Extra weight can cause a host of health problems in children, including asthma and Type 2 diabetes.

Perhaps the most established relationship of health and achievement is between eating breakfast at school and academic performance, no matter what the student’s socioeconomic status. Studies have linked eating breakfast at school with improved performance on standardized tests and better math grades, as well as with improved student attendance.

Though research suggests that school breakfast has a positive impact on all students’ performance, impact is greatest for students from food-insecure households.

Qualitative studies also cited the relationship between healthy eating and better student behavior. In a longitudinal child health study, teachers consistently cited the link between students’ eating habits and their behaviors. 

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