How a Child's Health Can Affect Classroom Behaviors

Classroom behavior problems are on the rise, according to a “Scholastic” article citing data from “Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on the Teaching Profession.” The 2012 report describes the significant deterioration of classroom behavior noticed by 53 percent of high school teachers, 68 percent of elementary teachers and 64 percent of middle school teachers during the past five years, a trend noted in schools of all economic levels 1. Child health can be a contributing factor, according to Carnegie Mellon University, as children's health can affect classroom behaviors.

Obese or Overweight

The Centers for Disease Control continues to describe childhood obesity as a major child health problem, with more than 33 percent of children and teens classified as overweight or obese 3. According to the Mayo Clinic, overweight and obese children are more likely to have problems with behavior and learning, typically stemming from less developed social skills and higher levels of anxiety. In a study published in the “Journal of Pediatrics,” University of Michigan researchers found that children with behavior problems were about three times more likely to be obese or overweight than other kids, and that kids with behavior problems were also five times more likely to be overweight later in life 49. The National Institute for Health Care Management found that overweight girls were more likely to have behavior problems in the classroom, whereas overweight boys were more likely to have learning difficulties 1.


Undernourishment is a health problem teachers are also familiar with. According to NEA Health Information Network, three of every five teachers surveyed said they saw children who regularly didn't have enough to eat 7. Learning and behavior are directly impacted when children do not eat well. Undernourishment can happen not only when children don't have enough to eat -- a problem that affects one in five American children, according to -- but also when children eat a poor diet. With a poor diet, a child may not be hungry, but may eat mostly processed foods and few fresh fruits and vegetables. This leads to a deficit of vital nutrients needed for concentration and other brain functioning. While this is a problem more associated with children living in poverty, undernourishment also happens in busy middle-class households that rely on convenience foods or fast food meals.


According to the Centers for Disease Control, “allergic conditions are among the most common medical conditions affecting children in the United States.” NBC News reported that CDC data showed a rapid rise in children with allergies 810. The relationship between allergies and behavior and learning problems has long been discussed in the medical community, as demonstrated by a 1947 “Journal of Pediatrics” article 9. Medical researchers continue to explore whether the relationship between is direct, meaning a particular allergy causes a specific sort of learning or behavior problem, or indirect. In an indirect relationship, an allergy may interfere with a child sleeping well, leaving the child irritable and more likely to act out. Itchy hives from an allergic reaction will strain anybody's ability to concentrate. Another way allergies indirectly affect classroom behavior is via medications. Medicines used to control some allergies and their symptoms can have side effects that negatively affect behavior.

Mental Health

Mental illness is a health problem with a profound effect on classroom behavior and learning. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “just over 20 percent (or 1 in 5) children, either currently or at some point during their life, have had a seriously debilitating mental disorder." The National Alliance on Mental Illness points out that the onset of about half of all long-term mental illnesses occurs before age 14, adding that “in any given year, only 20 percent of children with mental disorders are identified and receive mental health services.” Untreated mental illnesses can certainly disrupt a classroom, but more importantly, they can disrupt a child's entire life by interfering with education and development, resulting in a lifetime of struggle and dysfunction.