Associations of Physical Activity and Dietary Behaviors With Children's Health and Academic Problems


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  • The authors sincerely thank all parents/guardians, volunteers, community leaders, and staff of Cook Children's Health Care System for their contributions to the project Community-wide Children's Health Assessment & Planning Survey. The authors would also like to acknowledge Parna Prajapati, MBBS, MPH, for his assistant during the preparation of this manuscript.

Xiangrong Shi, Associate Professor, (, UNT Health Science Center, 3500 Camp Bowie Boulevard, Fort Worth, TX 76107.


BACKGROUND: We examined the associations of physical activities and dietary behaviors with children's health and academic-behavioral problems.

METHODS: We employed a Community-wide Children's Health Assessment and Planning Survey to examine physical activity, healthy meals, health status, and academic-behavioral problems in 3708 children 7 to 14 years of age. Statistical associations were examined with chi-square test and logistic regression analysis; we calculated odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs).

RESULTS: Among these children, 30.2% were overweight-obese, 11.0% had academic problems, and 7.9% had behavioral problems. Children classified as healthy eaters were more likely to exercise ≥4 days/week (79.1% vs 64.6%, OR: 2.08, 95% CI: 1.14 to 2.49), less likely to be overweight-obese (27.7% vs 44.6%, OR: 0.48, CI: 0.31 to 0.73), less likely to have academic problems (9.1% vs 16.1%, OR: 0.57, 95% CI: 0.41 to 0.79) and behavioral problems (6.9% vs 13.9%, OR: 0.46, 95% CI: 0.32 to 0.66) compared with their less healthy eating peers. Physical activity and healthy meals were associated with an improved health status (p < .001). However, the proportions of children taking unhealthy meals or choosing sedentary lifestyle increased as the cohorts progressed (p < .05) from childhood (7 to 8 years) to adolescence (13 to 14 years).

CONCLUSIONS: Healthy (or unhealthy) lifestyle behaviors are significantly interrelated. Children who take healthy meals and exercise often are associated with better health and fewer academic and behavioral problems. Unfortunately, taking unhealthy meals and sedentary lifestyle characterize a growing proportion of young adolescents. Thus, curbing unhealthy lifestyle behaviors should start in early childhood.