Award-winning research links health risk to poor grades

1 in 5 King County teens is at risk of failing in school, and new research from Public Health revealed that the risk of academic failure was linked to students’ health. The data come from the 2012 and 2014 Washington State Healthy Youth Surveys.

Health and academic risk

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Researchers looked at the relationship between academic risk (students who reported getting mostly Cs, Ds, or Fs in school) and more than 20 indicators of physical and mental health, such as food insecurity, unhealthy weight, and depressive feelings.  The findings were clear: health risk and academic risk increased in tandem. While fewer than 15% of students with zero health risks were at academic risk, more than half of students with 11 or more health risks were at risk of failing.

Further analysis identified 9 categories of health risk linked to poor grades. Even after controlling for demographic factors such as geography, race, and parental education, researchers found independent links between these categories and academic risk.

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For example, after controlling for demographics and other health risk factors, a student reporting a poor diet (low fruit/vegetable consumption or not eating breakfast) was 40% more likely to be at academic risk compared to a student who did not report a poor diet. Feeling depressed was one of the strongest predictors of academic risk:  students who reported depressive feelings were almost twice as likely to be at risk of failing in school.

What does it all mean?

The Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists highlighted the importance of this research with an award at their annual meeting. The researchers clearly demonstrated that health is an essential component of student achievement. In the future, supporting student health should be a key tool to helping all students achieve their potential.  While quality teachers, administrators, and curricula will always be important, their successes might increase considerably if students had easy access to healthy food, physical activity, dental care, and could count on mental health support.

“Every young person in King County deserves to grow up healthy and live to their full potential,” said Kyle Yasuda, MD, FAAP, Medical Officer for Children and Families at Public Health. “To achieve this, it’s clear that we need to support the whole student, including their health needs.”

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In the Washington State Healthy Youth Surveys, 8th, 10th, and 12th graders answered almost 100 questions about themselves, their families and friends, and their experiences in school and the communities where they live.  Schools and students can participate in the next survey this coming Fall of 2016.  Find more at