Seattle Foundation Blog

Health and Student Achievement

While high-quality teachers, administrators and a well-funded, working education system will always be critical, student success might also depend on access to healthy food, physical activity, dental care and mental health support.


September 22, 2016

By Communities Count and Seattle King County Public Health

As the school year moves into full swing, at Seattle Foundation we are reflecting on all the components that allow kids and young adults to be successful in school. One key component? Health.  New, award-winning research links health risk to poor grades.

The findings come from a survey in which local 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.

One in five King County teens is at risk of failing in school. Researchers from Public Health – Seattle & King County 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 percent 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 nine 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.

What does it all mean?

The researchers clearly demonstrated that health is an essential component of student achievement. While high-quality teachers, administrators and a well-funded, working education system will always be critical, student success might also depend on access to healthy food, physical activity, dental care and mental health support.

These findings are also a reminder to consider the multiple systems and environments that impact student and adult success. It’s tempting to hone in on one component of need in our philanthropic efforts and sometimes that is the best strategy, but at Seattle Foundation we know that understanding and appreciating whole systems is essential to achieving our mission of making Greater Seattle a stronger, more vibrant community for all.

Data and written analysis provided by Communities Count — a public-private partnership fiscally sponsored by Seattle Foundation. Communities Count monitors the health and well-being of King County communities and emphasizes prevention and a long-term view of change while using data to understand how to sustain healthy communities and families. Thank you to our partners Communities Count and Seattle King County Public Health.

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