State study finds soda drinkers get lower grades

November 24, 2009

By Laura Geggel

It is common knowledge that smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol are likely to negatively affect a student’s academic performance, but what about drinking soda?Soda may taste sweet, but students who drink two cans or more per day are more likely to get bad grades, according to a study of Washington students.

Carbonated drinks, unless they are made with 100 percent fruit or vegetable juices, and high-sugar drinks aren’t served in Issaquah schools.

Soda was not the only risk factor examined in the study. Overall, researchers looked at 13 mental and physical health risks to determine which had higher correlations with lower grades.

Data came from the 2006 Healthy Youth Survey, a multiple-choice survey given anonymously to public school students in grades six, eight, 10 and 12 every other year. About 200,000 students, including those from Issaquah, participated in the 2006 survey.

The school district’s nutrition policy, adopted for the 2007-08 school year, helps students make better choices by not offering beverages and food items with minimal nutritional value in school, including soda, said Sara Niegowski, district communications director.

The policy seems to have a positive effect on students as students in Issaquah’s high schools drink slightly less amounts of soda or sugary sports drinks than students throughout the state do, even in after-school settings.

The study, Research Review: School-based Health Interventions and Academic Achievement, found the more health risks students have, the more likely they will be at academic risk, meaning they earn average grades of C, D or F.

“For schools to succeed, they must focus on more than providing excellent instruction,” Frankie Manning, Washington State Board of Health and Governor’s Interagency Council on Health Disparities said in a press release. “Educators need to focus on the needs of the whole child to help them reach their full potential.”

The study did not say that health risks caused bad grades. However, the more health risks students had, the more likely they were to be getting bad grades. Certain risk factors affected students more than others. For example, more than 50 percent of students who reported using cigarettes or marijuana also reported academic risk, and about 40 percent who reported either alcohol use or drinking two or more cans of soda per day reported academic risk, as well.

Of the eighth-grade responses, about 22 percent of nonsmoking students were at academic risk, but more than twice that — 57 percent — who smoke were at risk. About 20 percent of students who ate breakfast were at risk, but 34 percent of students who did not eat breakfast were at risk.

Health risks are hard issues to tackle. The study recommended school district officials work with parents and community organizations to increase the health of their students.

“If there are interventions at many different levels, all of that can have impact on how children do academically,” said Danielle Kenneweg, director of the Office of Health Promotion at the Washington State Department of Health, which funded the report with the Washington State Board of Health and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Kenneweg added that healthy children tend to achieve better grades, get better jobs and become integral members of society.

Healthy children have shown better results in school settings. When a school in Massachusetts began offering low-income students free breakfast, students received better nutrition, improved their standardized test scores and decreased their levels of absences and tardiness.

On the Web

View the study online at depts.washington.edu/waschool under the ‘What’s New’ link.

Health risk factors

-Insufficient fruit and vegetable consumption

-Fewer than eight hours of sleep at night

-Not eating breakfast

-Watching TV three or more hours on an average school day

-Depressed for at least two weeks in past year

-Insufficient exercise

-Feeling unsafe at school

-Alcohol use

-Drinking two or more sodas per day

-Obesity

-Marijuana use

-Cigarette smoking

-Severe asthma

Source: Research Review, School-based Health Interventions and Academic Achievement, September 2009

Laura Geggel: 392-6434 ext. 221 or lgeggel@snovalleystar.com. Chantelle Lusebrink: 392-6434, ext. 241, or clusebrink@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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