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Physical Activity and Academic Performance Among Adolescents in Low-SES Schools

Jonathan M. Cosgrove & Darla M. Castelli

In experimentally designed research studies, the trait of physical fitness (PF) has been associated with academic performance (AP),  because multiple interventions have evidenced a relationship among youth. Though positive, the correlations have been small to moderate and occasionally contradictory because few studies control for mediating and moderating factors that may influence the relationship between PF and AP. Further, the strength of such relationships varies by academic subject matter, with the most robust findings linked to math and reading, compared to science and social studies.

Previous research examining the behavior of physical activity (PA) participation and its relationship with AP is also generally positive. Unlike the PF/AP relationship, a closer examination of the PA/AP relationship reveals disparities in the potency and consistency of these associations. In a 2015 review of the literature by Esteban-Cornejo et al, half of the studies confirmed a positive correlation between PA and AP, though the remaining studies exhibited a nonsignificant or negative effect. The authors believe that there may be multiple explanations for these inconsistencies, which we would like to address in this present study: (a) physical activity was not objectively measured, (b) effects may differ by gender, and (c) sample populations were largely made up of Caucasians from middle or higher income communities. Though most studies reveal positive benefits, to date no single study has evaluated the PA/AP relationship among Title I schools where students are from low–socioeconomic status (SES) households and are predominantly Hispanic. Because of the disproportionate co-occurrences of low academic performance,  low fitness, and elevated sedentary behaviors among adolescents in these settings, this research is both timely and warranted for contextualizing adolescent academic performance with regards to regular participation in PA.

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