Healthy Behaviors and Academic Success Go ‘Hand in Hand’ Interview with:

Catherine N. Rasberry, PhD Health Scientist, Division of Adolescent and School Health CDC Atlanta


Catherine N. Rasberry, PhD
Health Scientist, Division of Adolescent and School Health
CDC Atlanta What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: For many years, researchers have documented links between health-related behaviors and educational outcomes such as letter grades, test scores, and other measures of academic achievement. However, many of those studies are becoming out-of-date or have used samples that were not nationally representative. The aim of this study was to see if previous findings held in a current, national sample of high school students.

Consistent with previous studies, our findings revealed that regardless of sex, race/ethnicity and grade-level, high school students who received mostly A’s, mostly B’s, or mostly C’s had higher levels of most protective health-related behaviors and lower levels of most health-related risk behaviors. For example, we found that:

  • Students who reported receiving mostly Ds and Fs, were nine times more likely than students who received mostly As to report having ever injected any illegal drugs.
  • Also, students who reported receiving mostly Ds and Fs were more than four times more likely than students who received mostly As to report that they had four or more sexual partners.
  • Conversely, students who reported receiving mostly As were twice as likely as students who received mostly Ds and Fs to report eating breakfast every day in the past week. What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: Health-related behaviors and academic measures such as grades are closely linked and it’s important to remember that other studies have shown that health risk behaviors that began during the teen years are related to low educational levels, social and economic inequalities, and behavior problems that extend into adulthood. Given this, and in light of other evidence that has shown school health programs can improve both health and academic outcomes, education and public health professionals may find that their respective education and health-related goals are mutually beneficial. As such, these professionals may find collaboration helpful to achieve both improved education and health outcomes among youth.

School settings provide an opportunity for improving student health and supporting overall academic goals. To this end, CDC provides a number of resources that serve as powerful tools for schools looking to address their students’ health and academic needs. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: There are a couple of areas where future research could make important contributions. Our current study is cross-sectional, meaning all the data were collected at a single point in time. As a result, we cannot determine whether it was health behaviors that led to education outcomes, or education outcomes that led to health behaviors. Although previously conducted longitudinal studies have explored causation, updated nationally-representative research to look at causal pathways in the relationship between health and education could provide additional clues for how to impact both types of outcomes. In addition, we recommend researchers who study school health consistently include education outcomes in their research so that we might better understand the relationship between health and education, the factors that might influence or moderate this relationship, and the intervention approaches that hold the most promise for improving both health and education.

No disclosures Thank you for your contribution to the community.

Citation: Rasberry CN, Tiu GF, Kann L, et al. Health-Related Behaviors and Academic Achievement Among High School Students — United States, 2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2017;66:921–927. DOI:

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on September 13, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD