Academic Achievement is Improved by Student Health & Wellness

Schools can synergistically improve student health & wellness, plus academic achievement & student engagement, together—as the evidence shows.

As noted in a range of peer-reviewed journal articles & government studies including Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs):

  • Given competent providers, [up to 60 minutes] physical activity can be added to the school curriculum by taking time from other subjects without risk of hindering student academic achievement. On the other hand, adding time to ‘academic’ or ‘curricular’ subjects by taking time from physical education programs does not enhance grades in these subjects and may be detrimental to health.” (Trudeau & Shephard, 2008)
  • “…changing time spent in recess and PE is unlikely to affect student test scores.” (Dills, Morgan & Rotthoff, 2011.)
  • “There was no documentation of aerobic physical activity having any negative impact on children’s cognition and psychosocial health, even in cases where school curriculum time was reassigned from classroom teaching to aerobic physical activity.” (Lees & Hopkins, 2013—systematic review of RCT studies)
Time from PE graphic

Successful businesses figure out what people want, then provide it to them—often by using surveys or other market research. This clearly didn’t happen, when administrators decided to take away recess, arts ed, and physical & health education from students.

However, one school district that took the trouble to survey students found that the favorite subject of almost 4 in 10 middle school boys was “Gym”, which was also the favorite subject of 2 in 10 middle school girls. In addition, arts education was the favorite of 1 in 8 middle school girls. Even in high school, PE remained the favorite for 1 in 10 boys in this survey, and arts ed the favorite for 1 in 10 girls.

Favourite subjects graphic

Data:  Desy, Paterson, & Brockman, 2011
(As for elementary students—everyone knows their favorite subject is recess!)

Warning graphic

In addition, when we asked a cross-section of 6th to 8th grade students in three Title 1 schools in Arizona, how being physically active and eating healthy food impacted how they do in class: about 1 in 2 said they did better when they had been active and ate nutritiously—and few said they did worse:

Physically active graphic.jpg

Doctoral research, Turner, 2012

The bottom line: We unintentionally harm many students’ academic achievement, when we increase their seat-time and sacrifice their activity and health.  

In spite of this evidence, many schools continue to cut recess, PE, health ed, and arts education, and to underinvest in quality school meals.

This is another reason why we focused first on changing the state accountability system so that school leaders are held responsible for students having quality physical, health, and arts education.

Kids playing sport