Selected Lifestyle Behaviours and Academic Achievement in the Era of the Childhood Obesity Epidemic

  • Author / Creator
    Faught, Erin L
  • Lifestyle behaviours, including diet, physical activity, sleep, and sedentary behaviour, have been shown to be associated both with health outcomes, including childhood obesity, and academic achievement in children and youth. The improvement of these lifestyle behaviours to prevent chronic disease is an important public health priority. In addition, academic success for children is an important target for public health as educational attainment is a key social determinant of health and supports good health across the lifespan. Schools are an ideal place to implement initiatives to improve children’s lifestyle behaviours. However, further evidence is needed to justify that investments in children’s healthy lifestyle behaviours are also investments in academic success, and that health promotion in school environments does not detract from, but instead complements, the mandate of schools. The aim of this thesis is to investigate the relationship of diet, physical activity, sleep, screen usage, and body weight status with academic achievement. This aim was addressed through four research objectives, aligned into five research questions. The objectives consisted of assessing the relationship between lifestyle behaviour recommendations and academic achievement taking into consideration socioeconomic factors, assessing the independent and combined importance of meeting recommendations for lifestyle behaviours, and discussing considerations for the assessment of the relationship between physical activity and academic achievement. To achieve these objectives, I employed data from three, population-based surveys of children and youth from Alberta, Nova Scotia, and Canada-wide. Two of these surveys were linked to standardized exam performance while the Canadian survey had students self-report their academic achievement. I found that adherence to established recommendations for a healthy diet, particularly for sugar intake, physical activity, screen usage, and sleep were positively and strongly associated with better academic achievement. Children who met recommendations for free sugar intake scored almost 4% better on their academic exams compared to children who did not. In Nova Scotian children, the combined effects of adhering to all of these guidelines had a stronger association with academic achievement than the whole of their individual effects. Students who met the highest number of healthy lifestyle behaviour recommendations had up to three times the odds of meeting expectations on their exams compared to children who met the lowest number. This thesis generated novel evidence to demonstrate that adherence to healthy lifestyle behaviour recommendations are strongly associated with better academic achievement in children and early adolescents, regardless of body weight status or soecioeconomic status. This thesis generates three key recommendations for public health. First, free sugars intake among children is a key health promotion target to both improve the health of children and improve their academic achievement. Based on my findings, if all children in Alberta met the recommendations for free sugars intake, 1.4% more students would meet the Acceptable Standard on standardized exams in Language Arts, and 0.3% more would meet it in Math. In addition, 0.5% more students would meet the Excellence Standard in both Language Arts and Math. Currently, Alberta Education is committed to increasing the number of children who meet each of these standards by 0.2% each year for the next three years. Working towards the reduction of free sugars intake of Albertan students would easily meet these institutional goals with added health benefit. Secondly, this thesis demonstrates the importance of the promotion and adherence to healthy lifestyle behaviour guidelines for children. I also recommend the inclusion of free sugars guidelines in the next version of Canada’s Food Guide to complement existing Canadian guidelines for diet, physical activity, sleep, and screen usage. Third, the evidence from this thesis demonstrates that school-based health promotion to improve the lifestyle behaviours of children will benefit the academic success of all children regardless of their socioeconomic or body weight status. I recommend the broader implementation and evaluation of effective school-based health promotion initiatives in Canada. In particular, further implementation of initiatives taking a Comprehensive School Health approach and rigorous evaluation of their impact on students’ academic achievement is merited given the compelling evidence generated by this thesis.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2017
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.