A’s, B’s, and Condoms: New Study of High School Students Links Good Grades With Healthier Choices

Want good grades? Stay healthy.

A new government report has found that students nationwide who reported earning mostly A’s, B’s, and C’s in school ate more fruits and vegetables, were more physically active, and were less likely to engage in substance abuse and sexually risky or violent behaviors than their peers who earned D’s and F’s.

The analysis, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, used 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey data, which come from surveys of a nationally representative sample of U.S. high school students in both public and private schools. The findings, the authors wrote, affirm the benefits of partnering health organizations with schools.

Past studies have found similar relationships between health and education, but many used older data or were not nationally representative.

Students were asked to answer questions about recent and lifetime behaviors. For example, students reported whether they had eaten breakfast, fruits, and vegetables in the seven days before the survey, if they had consumed alcohol or marijuana in the past 30 days, or if they had ever used cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamines.

Students who earned D’s and F’s in school were more likely to have engaged in risky behaviors such as substance abuse, unprotected sex, or planned or attempted suicide.

The report said that while the data do not show direct causation, “causal relationships” exist both ways between education and health.

“Some educational researchers have advocated addressing health risk behaviors and related disparities as a key approach to closing academic achievement gaps among youths,” the report said.

The report lists several limitations on the data. First, the results can’t speak to how health and education might be linked to things like family and environment, though past research has shown that controlling for these variables still supports these connections. Additionally, the survey was available only to enrolled students, excluding teens who have dropped out of school.

The combined school and student response rate to the survey was 60 percent, with 15,624 students in grades 9–12 taking the survey. Students recorded their answers on paper during one class period. The data controlled for sex, race/ethnicity, and grade in school.

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