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-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia
Does the development of good health habits help teens succeed in school? Or does academic success foster good health habits? A study recently completed by researchers from Finnish and British institutions concludes that the answer to both questions is “Yes.” That is, the researchers uncovered “a strong mutual interaction of school career and the adoption of health compromising and health enhancing behaviours in adolescence.” However, behind both health habits and academic performance, the researchers identify family background as a potent influence.
To assess the relationship between adolescents’ health habits and their academic attainments, the researchers analyze data collected for nationally representative samples of Finnish teens ages 12 to 18 in 1981, 1985, 1987, 1989, and 1991. These data indicate a strong two-way relationship between health behaviors and school success. “Just as school career has a crucial role in determining the adoption of health-compromising and health-enhancing behaviours as well as adult educational level, so the reverse is true,” report the researchers; “behaviours impact on school career.”
However, whether they were looking at health habits or school achievements, the researchers could not help but notice “the crucial role of family background.” The data reveal that, compared to peers from intact families, “boys and girls from a non-nuclear family structure were . . . more likely to be involved in health-compromising behaviours and less involved in health-enhancing behaviours. In the statistical correlations in the data, the researchers also discern “a strong pathway from family background (S[ocio]E[conomic]P[osition] and family structure) to adult education through school career in all age-sex groups.”
In summing up their findings, the researchers remark, “The importance of family structure was . . . confirmed, adolescents living with both parents having a greater probability of good educational attainment.” The researchers further acknowledge, “The role of family structure was important also in the adoption of health-compromising behaviours.”
Appropriately, the Finnish and British scholars regard their findings as “consistent with those of studies from other Western countries showing that home background continues to play a decisive role in educational choices and educational success.” These scholars further conclude that “family background, school career and health-compromising and health-enhancing behaviours are a mixture of processes leading to different educational levels in adulthood.”
Unfortunately, with the decay of family and home life in Europe and the United States, that mixture is going to make it difficult for a growing number of young people to develop good health habits or to do well in school.
(Leena Kristiina Koivusilta et al., “From Childhood Socio-Economic Position to Adult Educational Level—Do Health Behaviours in Adolescence Matter? A Longitudinal Study, BMC Public Health 13 : 711. Web.)