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Health habits, grades linked in study that included students at two Duluth colleges

Kathy Morris now has proof to support her claim that college students with unhealthy habits have lower grade-point averages. A study released today by Boynton Health Service at the University of Minnesota shows that a lack of sleep, excessive dri...

UMD students
Eliud Limo, a graduate student from Kenya, studies engineering management in the University of Minnesota Duluth Library on Sunday night. In the foreground is Sarah Mickelson, a non-traditional freshman. [Amanda Hansmeyer / News Tribune]

Kathy Morris now has proof to support her claim that college students with unhealthy habits have lower grade-point averages.

A study released today by Boynton Health Service at the University of Minnesota shows that a lack of sleep, excessive drinking, high stress and other health-related behaviors are linked to academic performance. More than 9,000 students at 14 different two- and four-year schools, including the University of Minnesota Duluth and Lake Superior College, were surveyed on lifestyle choices and academics in February and March 2007.

"Now we have the research to say, 'Here, look at the consequences,'" said Morris, the director of Health Services at UMD.

Students who reported excessive television and computer use had an average GPA of 3.04, compared with 3.27 for those whodidn't cite an issue. Thirty percent of students surveyed said their use was excessive.

Students who play less than one hour of computer or video games per day had a GPA of 3.31, while those who played games for more than five hours had a GPA of 2.98.

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UMD freshmen Kyle From and Sam Beckman play about two hours of video games per day.

"It cuts down on the homework," said Beckman, a business major from St. Francis, Minn. "I find myself playing video games instead of doing homework. It's a social thing."

Ed Ehlinger, director and chief health officer of Boynton Health Service, was surprised at the findings on excessive use of the television and computer screens.

"Screen time had a huge impact on grade-point average, and the ... time in front of the screen is damaging their academic achievement," Ehlinger said. "That is one that jumped up. We knew it had an impact, but not that big."

Among the largest performance gaps were those observed between students who had drug or alcohol issues and student who didn't. Students who reported issues with alcohol had an average GPA of 2.92, compared to a GPA of 3.28 for students who said they did not. The drug-use gap was 2.94 vs. 3.25.

Other GPA disparities for student who reported behaviors versus those who didn't:

* Difficulties sleeping: 3.08 vs. 3.27.

* Smoking: 3.12 vs. 3.28.

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* Stress: 3.12 vs. 3.23.

In a surprise to researchers, the number of hours worked at a part-time job did not have a negative affect on GPA.

Morris and Ehlinger will show the findings to teachers and administrators.

Ehlinger said he hopes it helps convince the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to require students to have health insurance. The University of Minnesota already requires insurance.

"If we can get students insured, that might help them do better in school," Ehlinger said. "[Having] no insurance will stop you from getting preventative treatment and using health services. All of those things lead you to not deal with the issues that could affect your academic career."

Ehlinger said this study could result in small, yet meaningful, lifestyle changes.

"This study will provide another reason to cut back on some small things," Ehlinger said, "because it will not only have a positive affect on your health, but it will also help you as a student and with your grade-point average."

ANDY GREDER can be reached at (218) 723-5218 or by e-mail at agreder@duluthnews.com .

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