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Physical health and academic achievement

Poor academic outcomes and high dropout rates are major concerns of educators, policy makers, and parents alike – and poor health severely limits a child's motivation and ability to learn.

Research confirms that health disparities affect educational achievement.i Student health affects test scores, attendance, classroom behavior, grades and graduation rates.ii

  • Substance use, violence, physical inactivity, pregnancy, and psychological, emotional, and behavioral problems are all health risk factors repeatedly linked to academic failure.iii
  • Nationally, key health reasons that youth drop out of high school include pregnancy, substance use, and mental health disorders.iv
  • Adolescents with poorer general health are less likely to graduate from high school on time and attend college or post-secondary education than healthier students.v
  • Removing just one health risk has a positive effect on student
  • Asthma causes three times more school absences than any other chronic disease causing 60 percent of students with asthma to miss school days every year.vii

School-Based Health Centers (SBHCs)—the convergence of public health, primary care, and mental health—provide an optimal setting to foster learning readiness and academic achievement while giving children the resources they need to improve their health.

  • High school SBHC users in one 2000 study had a 50% decrease in absenteeism and 25% decrease in tardiness two months after receiving school-based mental health and counseling.viii
  • A study of SBHC users in Seattle found that those who use the clinic for medical purposes had a significant increase in attendance over nonusers.ix
  • A 2007 study found that SBHC users for mental health purposes increased their Grade Point Averages over time compared to nonusers.x
  • African-American male SBHC users were three times more likely to stay in school than their peers who did not use the SBHC.xi
  • Students, teachers, and parents who have a SBHC rated academic expectations, school engagement, and safety and respect significantly higher than in schools without a SBHC.xii
  • SBHCs in The Bronx, NY reduced hospitalization and increased school attendance among school children with asthma.xiii
  • A quasi-experimental study in New York observed that students not enrolled in a SBHC lost three times as much seat time as students enrolled in a SBHC.xiv

# Article
Basch CE. Healthier Students Are Better Learners: A Missing Link in School Reforms to Close the Achievement Gap. 2010.
Health & Academic Achievement Research fact sheet. Oregon Health Authority, Public Health Division, Adolescent Health Program, June 2011.
Lynskey M, Hall W. (2010). The effects of adolescent cannabis use on education attainment: A review. Addiction; Yamada T, Kendix M, Yamada T. (1996). The impacts of alcohol consumption and marijuana use on high school graduation. Health Economics; Brindis C, Philliber S. (1998). Room to grow: improving services for pregnant and parenting teenagers in school settings. Education & Urban Society; Brooks-Gunn J, Guo G, Furstenberg F. (1993). Who drops out of and who continues beyond high school? A 20-year follow-up of black urban youth. Journal of Adolescent Research; Dewey JD. (1999). Reviewing the relationship between school factors and substance use for elementary, middle, and high school students. Journal of Primary Prevention; Mandell DJ, Hill SL, Carter L, Brandon RN. (2002). The impact of substance use and violence/delinquency on academic achievement for groups of middle and high school students in Washington. Washington Kids Count, Human Services Policy Center Evans School of Public Affairs, University of Washington; Shephard RJ. (1996). Habitual physical activity and academic performance. Nutrition Reviews.
Breslau J, Miller E, Joanie Chung WJ, Schweitzer JB. (2011). Childhood and adolescent onset psychiatric disorders, substance use, and failure to graduate high school on time. Journal of Psychiatric Research; The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. (2010). Policy brief: Preventing teen pregnancy is critical to school completion.
Haas SA, Fosse NE. (2008). Health and the educational attainment of adolescents: Evidence from the NLSY97. Journal of Health & Social Behavior.
Dilley J. (2009). Research review: School-based health interventions and academic achievement.
Doull I, Williams A, Freezer N, Holgate S. (1996). Descriptive study of cough, wheeze and school absence in childhood. Thorax; Rana U, Jurgens S, Mangione S, Elia J, Tollerud D. (2000). Asthma prevalence among high absentees of two Philadelphia middle schools. Chest.
Gall G, Pagano ME, Desmond MS, Perrin JM, Murphy JM. Utility of Psychosocial Screening at a School-Based Health Center. Journal of School Health. Sep 2000;70(7):292-298.
Walker SC, Kerns SE, Lyon AR, Bruns EJ, Cosgrove TJ. Impact of School-Based Health Center Use on Academic Outcomes. The Journal of adolescent health : official publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine. Mar 2010;46(3):251-257.
McCord MT, Klein JD, Foy JM, Fothergill K. School-Based Clinic Use and School Performance. Journal of Adolescent Health. 1993;14(2):91-98.
xii Strolin-Goltzman J. The Relationship Between School-Based Health Centers and the Learning Environment. Journal of School Health. 2010;80(3):153-159.
xiii Webber MP, Carpiniello KE, Oruwariye T, Lo Y, Burton WB, Appel DK. Burden of Asthma in Inner-City Elementary Schoolchildren: Do School-Based Health Centers Make a Difference? Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine. Feb 2003;157(2):125-129.
xiv Van Cura M. The Relationship Between School-Based Health Centers, Rates of Early Dismissal from School, and Loss of Seat Time. J Sch Health. 2010;80(8):371-377.