The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Poor teens may get more than academics at top schools; less risky health behaviours seen, too

  • Print

CHICAGO - Disadvantaged teens may get more than an academic boost by attending top-notch high schools — their health may also benefit, a study suggests.

Risky health behaviour including binge-drinking, unsafe sex and use of hard drugs was less common among these kids, compared with peers who went to mostly worse schools. The teens were otherwise similar, all from low-income Los Angeles neighbourhoods who applied to top public charter schools that admit students based on a lottery system.

The researchers compared behaviour in almost 1,000 kids in 10th through 12th grade who were admitted to the high-performing schools and in those who went elsewhere. Overall, 36 per cent of the selected kids engaged in at least one of 11 risky behaviours, compared with 42 per cent of the other teens.

The study doesn't prove that the schools made the difference and it has limitations that weaken the results, including a large number of students who refused to participate. Still, lead author Dr. Mitchell Wong said the results echo findings in less rigorously designed research and they fit with the assumption that "better education will lead to better health." Wong is an internist and researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The study involved mostly Latino students who applied to one of three top-performing public charter schools from 2007 to 2010. About half of the kids had parents who didn't graduate from high school and most didn't own their own homes.

Results were published online Monday in Pediatrics.

Teens were given computerized questionnaires to answer in private, to improve the chances for accurate self-reporting. Standardized test scores were obtained from the California Department of Education.

The results aren't a referendum on charter schools but the lottery system they use for enrolment made the comparison fairer, Wong said.

Despite the limitations, the study "is a beautifully conducted natural experiment" that could occur because there's more demand for high-performing schools than there is space available, said Kelli Komro, a professor of health outcomes and policy at the University of Florida in Gainesville. She was not involved in the research.

Because the Los Angeles schools' lottery system selects students randomly, not on grades or other differences, the study design "mimics a randomized controlled trial, the gold standard in health research," Komro said.

Most of the selected kids chose to attend those schools, while 83 per cent of those not picked went to schools with worse performance records. Math and English scores after freshman year were higher in selected kids than the other teens. Moreover, just 9 per cent of the selected kids dropped out of school, versus almost 1 in 4 of the others.

Prof. Harold Pollack, a University of Chicago public health researcher, said the study is important and highlights the challenge — and need to — create "a much larger number of schools that serve kids well."

Pollack said better academic performance among the charter school kids is likely more important for their long-term health than their risky behaviour choices.

"Educational outcomes are just so critical for people's well-being," he said.

___

Online:

Pediatrics: http://www.pediatrics.org

___

AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/LindseyTanner

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

J.P. Vigier’s Whiteboard: Coach Maurice’s first full season

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press.  Local/Weather Standup- Catching rays. Prairie Dog stretches out at Fort Whyte Centre. Fort Whyte has a Prairie Dog enclosure with aprox. 20 dogs young and old. 060607.
  • A pelican comes in for a landing Wednesday afternoon on the Red River at Lockport, Manitoba - Standup photo- June 27, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you think volunteers dragging the Red River is a good idea?

View Results

Ads by Google