Monday, August 2, 2010

Association Between Health-Risk Behaviors and Academic Grades

I was checking my e-mail this afternoon and opened the latest message from NASPE. After scrolling through some P.E. news, the big link that caught my eye was entitled, "New Health and Academic Achievement Resources from DASH." I'm always interested in reading about how health education, physical education, etc. can help improve academic learning.

The information provided by the CDC is based on the just released 2009 results of the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey. If you're unaware, the goal of the YRBS is to monitor priority risk-behaviors among adolescents across the country. The amount of information this provides health educators is incredible; in addition to a national breakdown, data can be broken down on the state and local level. This data has been used in my district to adapt our health curriculum to fit the needs of our students. One could argue that changes might be too late to have an impact by the time we see trends, and identifying future trends is something I would like to try to improve on by talking with the students, etc. But, when it comes down to it we are using the data in a way that can help create positive changes among the youth we serve.

I haven't yet looked at all the data (this frequently happens when I blog about something I just read about), but the Overview provided enough information for me to post here. When it comes down to it, after controlling for sex, race/ethnicity, and grade level, data showed "a negative association between health-risk behaviors and academic achievement among high school students."

Students with higher grades are less likely to engage in risk behaviors! Are there outliers? Of course there are. This data can't be applied in every situation. I'm sure that we can all think of someone we went to high school with that partied hard or engaged in some of the other risk behaviors and somehow managed to get decent grades, or vice versa. But, how much did they learn? That in itself, the reflection of grades on student learning, is another can of worms to open up. I'm getting off track here, but as you can see I try to see the whole picture behind the numbers. Learning disabilities, AP classes, and a host of other items are not taken into account.

I would be further interested to see how these numbers correlate to results of standardized test scores. We already know that physical activity can help increase scores on standardized tests (among other things, like improving classroom behavior) but do engagement in risk behaviors affect them too? It's easy to generalize, or make assumptions, about the potential result of this. I would love to look at some data from which I could draw conclusions. However, some people don't perform well on standardized test scores and some people ace them while maintaining below average grades. Too many controls for a study, I think!

The CDC themselves has said that these numbers require further research to determine what exactly leads to low grades, or to engaging in risk-behaviors, or what else could lead to either of the above. My excitement with this is that now we have the possibility for future research into this area. And, in an economic climate where health and physical education are placed on the chopping block quickly and often without justification, these numbers give those of us in the field concrete evidence of the importance of what we teach children. It also helps support the argument for incorporating a well developed, interactive, coordinated school health program in as many school districts as possible.

I'm going to use some of this new data during my brief presentation during back to school night. Actually, as part of our department's professional development before school begins, we are spending a day with our community prevention coalition discussing the new data from our own, district-wide version of the YRBS. So, I'll be able to apply even more specific data during back to school night.

I'll also use it when I finally get my chance to present in front of the School Committee, Governor, President (whoever!) when I argue my case for increasing the amount of sexuality education we teach in our middle school. But that, my friends, is another topic for another time!

Check out the actual reports and information here.

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