The Relationship between Physical Activity, Weight, and Academic Achievement
Understanding the relationship between physical activity, body weight, and academic achievement can help provide schools and organizations with the evidence needed to appropriately design academic and physical activity programming.
At this point, evidence suggests a positive relationship between physical activity and grade point average, rate of learning, classroom behavior, as well as cognitive, social, and motor skill development. Research also suggests that heavier children have greater risk for school absenteeism than their peers.
Data is still scarce and inconclusive regarding the relationship between body weight and academic achievement. This section includes literature investigating the relationship between physical activity, body weight, and academic performance.
- Study results show statistically significant relationships between fitness and academic achievement, though the direction of causation is not known (Chomitz, et al., 2009).
- Data analyzed in this study indicate that additional curricular emphasis on physical education may result in small absolute gains in grade point average and strongly suggest a relative increase in performance per unit of academic teaching time (Trudeau, et al., 2008).
- Observations show a positive association between academic performance and physical activity (Trudeau, et al., 2008).
- Data suggest that heavier children have greater risk for school absenteeism than their normal-weight peers (Geier, et al, 2007).
- This study suggests that schools have the potential to influence habitual physical activity among children by encouraging increased participation in extracurricular sport activities, by favoring active commuting to school, and by providing exercise equipment and supervision for youth in their neighborhoods (Trudeau, et al., 2005).
- Available data suggest that the rate of academic learning per unit of class time is enhanced in physically active students (Shephard, 1997).
Academic Research Articles and Findings:
- Obesity and physical inactivity may have a negative impact on cognitive function and academic achievement. This prospective study investigated whether childhood motor function predicts later academic achievement via physical activity, fitness, and obesity.
- The study sample included 8,061 children from the Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1986. Baseline data included parent-reported motor function at age 8 years old. This was then compared with self-reported physical activity, predicted cardiorespiratory fitness (cycle ergometer test), obesity (body weight and height), and academic achievement (grades) at age 16 years old.
- Structural equation models with unstandardized (B) and standardized (β) coefficients were used to test whether, and to what extent, physical activity, cardiorespiratory fitness, and obesity at age 16 mediated the association between childhood motor function and adolescents’ academic achievement.
- Physical activity was associated with a higher grade-point average, and obesity was associated with a lower grade-point average in adolescence.
- Furthermore, compromised motor function in childhood had a negative indirect effect on adolescents’ academic achievement via physical inactivity (B = –0.023, 95% confidence interval = –0.031, –0.015) and obesity (B = –0.025, 95% confidence interval = –0.039, –0.011), but not via cardiorespiratory fitness.
- These results suggest that physical activity and obesity may mediate the association between childhood motor function and adolescents’ academic achievement.
- Compromised motor function in childhood may represent an important factor driving the effects of obesity and physical inactivity on academic underachievement.
Marko T. Kantomaa, Emmanuel Stamatakis, Anna Kankaanpää, Marika Kaakinen, Alina Rodriguez, Anja Taanila, Timo Ahonen, Marjo-Riitta Järvelin, and Tuija Tammelin. (2013). Physical activity and obesity mediate the association between childhood motor function and adolescents’ academic achievement. PNAS 2013 110(5), 1917-1922. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1214574110
- Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012;166(1):49-55. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2011.716
- The purpose of this study is to describe the prospective relationship between physical activity and academic performance.
- Prospective studies for this systematic review were identified from searches in PubMed, PsycINFO, Cochrane Central, and Sportdiscus from 1990 through 2010. Studies were selected by screening the titles and abstracts for eligibility, rating the methodological quality of the studies, and extracting the data. Studies had to report at least one physical activity or physical fitness measurement during childhood or adolescence. Studies also had to report at least one academic performance or cognition measure during childhood or adolescence.
- This systematic review identified 10 observational and 4 intervention studies. The quality score of the studies ranged from 22% to 75%. Two studies were scored as high quality. Methodological quality scores were particularly low for the reliability and validity of the measurement instruments. Based on the results of the best-evidence synthesis, there was evidence of a significant longitudinal positive relationship between physical activity and academic performance.
- Participation in physical activity is positively related to academic performance in children. Because only 2 high-quality studies were found, future high-quality studies are needed to confirm our findings. These studies should thoroughly examine the dose-response relationship between physical activity and academic performance as well as explanatory mechanisms for this relationship.
Singh, A., L. Uijtdewilligen, et al. (2012). "Physical Activity and Performance at School: A Systematic Review of the Literature Including a Methodological Quality Assessment." Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 166(1): 49-55.
- This study examined associations of fitness and fatness with cognitive processes, academic achievement, and behavior, independent of demographic factors, at the baseline of an exercise trial.
- Overweight, sedentary but otherwise healthy 7–11 year olds (N = 170) participated in a study of health, cognition and achievement in the Augusta, GA area from 2003–2006. Children underwent evaluations of fatness and fitness, psychological assessments of cognition and academic achievement, and behavior ratings by parents and teachers. Partial correlations examined associations of fitness and fatness with cognitive and achievement scores and behavior ratings, controlling for demographic factors.
- Fitness was associated with better cognition, achievement and behavior, and fatness with worse scores. Specifically, executive function, mathematics and reading achievement, and parent ratings of child behavior were related to fitness and fatness. Teacher ratings were related to fitness.
- These results extend prior studies by providing reliable, standardized measures of cognitive processes, achievement, and behavior in relation to detailed measures of fitness and fatness. However, cross-sectional associations do not necessarily indicate that improving one factor, such as fatness or fitness, will result in improvements in factors that were associated with it. Thus, randomized clinical trials are necessary to determine the effects of interventions.
Davis, C. L. and S. Cooper (2011). "Fitness, fatness, cognition, behavior, and academic achievement among overweight children: Do cross-sectional associations correspond to exercise trial outcomes?" Preventive Medicine 52, Supplement(0): S65-S69.
- The aim of this cross-sectional study is to examine the associations between active commuting to school and cognitive performance in adolescents in five cities (Granada, Madrid, Murcia, Santander, and Zaragoza) in Spain.
- In this study, a total of 1700 adolescents (892 girls) aged 13 to 18.5 years were participated by self-reporting their mode and duration of transportation to school and their participation in extracurricular physical activity.
- Cognitive performance (verbal, numeric, and reasoning abilities and an overall score) was measured by the Spanish version of the SRA Test of Educational Ability.
- Active commuting to school was associated with better cognitive performance (all P < .05) in girls but not in boys, independent of potential confounders including participation in extracurricular physical activity. In addition, adolescent girls who spent more than 15 minutes actively commuting to school had better scores in 3 of the 4 cognitive performance variables (all P < .05) than those who spent less time actively commuting to school ( 15 minutes) as well as better scores in all of the cognitive performance variables (all P < .001) than girls inactively commuting.
- Active commuting to school and its duration may positively influence cognitive performance in adolescent girls.
Martinez-Gomez, D., J. R. Ruiz, et al. (2011). "Active Commuting to School and Cognitive Performance in Adolescents: The AVENA Study." Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 165(4): 300-305.
- A nationwide survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control in 2007 reported 65% of high school students did not meet the recommendation that youth participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity most days of the week (CDC, 2008). While research has focused its attention primarily on bodily health, growing evidence supports the benefits of physical activity on brain health (Ratey & Hagerman, 2008).
- Physical activity is important and many adolescents are not meeting the recommendation, therefore, it is important to explore the adolescent perceptions to understand which factors influence physical activity participation. The significance of this study is to gain a better understanding of adolescent perceptions to explain the role physical activity plays on academic achievement. The intent is to provide additional insight into improving educational and community programs and policies to increase physical activity among adolescents.
- A two-phase explanatory mixed methods design was used. In the first quantitative phase, descriptive statistics, correlations, and two-way ANOVAs were conducted. Results from the study of 208 secondary adolescents from a Midwestern setting indicated that physical activity does not have a significant relationship with academic achievement. However, two-way ANOVA results did provide support for the existence of differences in ecological factors influencing physical activity and academic achievement.
- In the second qualitative phase, extreme case sampling was used to select participants for focus group interviews. Analysis of the third research question did reveal substantive differences in perceptions of physical activity and academic achievement between each of the four extreme groups. Themes included: enjoyment, motivation, self-efficacy, perceived feelings, health, social influences, support, environment, academics, and barriers.
- A connection of the quantitative and qualitative results found social influences, self-efficacy, support, environment, academics, and motivation the greatest influences statistically and substantively on physical activity influences. The fourth analysis suggested more students feel there is a relationship between physical activity and academic achievement. The fifth analysis provides suggestions for adolescents, parents, schools and the community how to increase physical activity participation among adolescents.
Hylok, M. J. (2011). “Exploring student perceptions to explain the relationship between physical activity and academic achievement in adolescents: A mixed methods study.”