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COOK, K. A. (2004). The Relationship Between a Healthy Lifestyle and College Students` Grade Point Average. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 7. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved September 26, 2023 .

The Relationship Between a Healthy Lifestyle and College Students` Grade Point Average

Sponsored by: ELIZABETH HAMMER (eyhammer@loyno.edu)
This study examined the relationship between a healthy lifestyle and college studentsí grade point average. A healthy lifestyle was measured by diet, exercise, sleep, alcohol use, and tobacco use. The participants included 52 undergraduate students from Loyola University New Orleans, who represented a range of ages, races, and gender. It was hypothesized that a healthy lifestyle would be positively related to grade point average. More specifically, that diet, exercise, and sleep would have a positive relationship to grade point average, and alcohol and tobacco use would have a negative relationship to grade point average. It was found that the only health variable that was significantly related to grade point average was diet. This study is contradictory to the findings of some past research done in the area of health and grade point average.

Health is an aspect of life that is essentially one of the most important factors in basic human performance. Humans suffer from many diseases and ailments that, in many cases, hinder their functioning. Health contributes to general well-being and overall lifestyle. In order for a person to enjoy a quality life, good health habits must be achieved because basic health determines what a person can and cannot do. There are several factors in a personís lifestyle that can make them healthy or unhealthy. Basic diet and nutrition aids a person in many different ways. Eating the correct amount of nutrients provided in the food groups is essential for the bodyís proper functioning (Department of Health and Human Services & U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2000). The Department of Agriculture (2000) has dietary guidelines in place, which dictates how many servings of the food groups a person is supposed to be getting in order to stay healthy. Basic nutrition is the fuel that a body needs to operate. Without gas a car cannot run, and without food a body cannot function. Research by the Department of Agriculture shows that a person needs to have a varied diet, which includes food from all the food groups because no one type of food will provide a person with the amount of proper nutrients their body needs (Department of Health and Human Services & U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2000). Other research has found that there is very little compliance to the USDA dietary guidelines among college students (Anding, Suminski, & Boss, 2001). Findings of this sort have become a concern because typically the eating habits which students acquire in college will carry on into adulthood (Haberman & Luffey, 1998). If a person wants the body to perform at its optimal level than he/she should start early in life, preferably high school or college, making the right food choices and eat a variety of all of the food groups in order to stay healthy. If it has been found that basic health, including nutrition, affects overall performance, I would assume that the performance would also include cognitive performance. Sleep is another major aspect in a personís health. Sleep is a natural state for living beings when they are tired. Past research in the area of health and the ability to perform concluded that for students who were deprived of sleep for 24 hours were ďÖnot only increasing their feelings of sleepiness during the day, thus decreasing their ability to pay attention in class, but are also negatively affecting their ability to perform on examsĒ (Pilcher & Walters, 1997). A person who is deprived of sleep cannot function properly because their body has not been refreshed. Therefore if the body itself is tired then the person cannot successfully complete their day-to-day functions because the body has not been restored. If the body is tired then the mind is tired because our body functions as a whole. College students have been found to be a population that does not get as much sleep as the typical adult population (Buboltz, Brown, & Soper, 2001). This finding is important because it indicates that college students do not take into account the repercussions of sleep deprivation. Some of the repercussions may include inability to concentrate and a lower overall grade point average in school (Trockel, Barnes, & Egget, 2000). In a study done about sleep length and grade point average, it was found that students with higher grade point averages reported sleeping longer than those with lower grade point averages (Kelly, Kelly, & Clanton, 2001). Kelly et al. (2001) categorized students according to self-report on a survey into three groups which are short sleepers, average sleepers, and long sleepers. They concluded that longer sleepers reported higher grade point averages than short sleepers. Kelly et al. (2001) attributed this finding to decreased ability to focus on schoolwork for short sleepers. Grade point average is a very important factor to college students because this is the way that colleges determine a studentís overall academic performance. Exercise is another aspect that is important to a personís health. A person should participate in at least thirty minutes of moderate exercise daily (Department of Health and Human Services & U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2000). Exercise activities have been known to boost energy levels, release tension, prevent illnesses, reduce the risk of heart disease, manage stress, and help a person to sleep better (American Heart Association, 2004). A sample of college students, found that most students did not complete the daily recommended physical activity of thirty minutes per day (Huang et al., 2003). A study of high school studentsí health habits concluded that students who did not engage in physical activity also had an array of other unhealthy habits, such as poor diet, smoking, and low academic performance (Pate, Heath, Dowda, & Trost, 1996). Also, students who engage in physical activity had higher grade point averages, better relationships with their parents, and used fewer drugs (Field, Diego, & Sanders, 2001). Exercise not only promotes good physical health but it also aids a personís psychological health (Department of Health and Human Services & U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2000). This aspect is important to a personís cognitive performance. Finally, in order to function properly and stay healthy, the body has to fight off harmful substances. Things such as excessive alcohol use and use of tobacco products are harmful to oneís body because it can cause illnesses and turn into an addiction (Department of Health and Human Services & U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2000). This is very unhealthy, because addictions severely hinder a personís present and potential capabilities because the body becomes dependent on the substance. Excessive use of alcohol can cause a person to use bad judgment and can also lead to more serious health problems such as cirrhosis of the liver, inflammation of the pancreas, brain and heart damage, and malnutrition (Department of Health and Human Services & U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2000). Tobacco use can also cause a variety of serious health problems. Smoking may cause lung cancer, stroke, heart disease, infertility, and bronchitis (American Lung Association, 2003). A study done on college studentsí attitudes about smoking shows that while they are aware of the potential health risks involved in smoking, 25% of college students smoke anyway (Budd & Preston, 2001). In a study done on adolescence, the researchers found that substance abuse is associated with depression and low academic performance (Diego, Field, & Sanders, 2003). Diego et al. (2003) concluded that depression, academic performance, and popularity are sound predictors of substance abuse. If these substances cripple a personís health then that personís level of overall performance and cognitive performance will not function at its fullest potential. While there have been studies which target the college student population dealing with health habits, there has not been much research done to relate specific health habits with grade point average. The present study examines the relationship between health and grade point average specifically to see if there are any generalizations about the lifestyle of the college population. College studentsí lives are very busy because many work, participate in organizations, and go out with friends in addition to attending school and studying. Being able to balance all of these things presents a very stressful lifestyle for many college students. This is why it is important to have a healthy lifestyle, because college studentsí health needs to be the best it can be in order for their bodies and minds to function properly. Many of the studies referenced above indicate that college students do not take into account the seriousness of their health behaviors (e.g., Budd & Preston, 2001; Pilcher & Walters, 1997). Also some of the above studies also indicate difficulty in academic performance as a result of some unhealthy behavior (e.g., Trockel, Barnes, & Egget, 2000; Kelly, Kelly, & Clanton, 2001). If basic health is not achieved then college students will encounter problems not only physically but mentally as well. Ultimately, if a college studentís health is not up to par then that student will not perform to their potential in their studies. We have identified the components of a healthy lifestyle to include diet, sleep, exercise, alcohol use, and tobacco use. We hypothesized that grade point average, among college students, was positively related to a healthy lifestyle. We further hypothesized that the different components of a healthy lifestyle would individually relate to grade point average in that sleep, nutrition, and exercise would be positively related to grade point average and alcohol and tobacco use would be negatively related to grade point average.


Sixty undergraduate students from Loyola University New Orleans were expected to participate in the study. The participants included both male students and female students. The participants were also eighteen years of age and older. Researchers went to classes and student groups around campus in order to recruit students. The Psychology Department human participants pool was also used to recruit volunteers. The participants selected were, to the best of the researchersí knowledge, representative of all racial/ethnic groups.

Healthy lifestyle was measured using an experimenter-generated survey. This survey was adapted from several on-line surveys (Harris; Engs, 1992, 2000, 2002; Health Sciences and Athletes, 2004; One Person Health, 2003; The National Parkinson Foundation, 2003). It consists of twenty-nine questions. The types of questions include multiple choice, and fill in the blank questions. This survey was adapted to measure a healthy lifestyle, which includes diet, sleep, exercise, alcohol use, and tobacco use. There are also demographic questions included in the survey, which measures grade point average.

The present study is a correlational design. When participants arrived for the study, they were seated with sufficient space between each person and provided with basic instructions on how to complete the survey. They were also given a brief description of the study. Participants were asked to read the informed consent form carefully before participating. Once the participant read the informed consent, if he/she kept the informed consent then they agreed to participate. The participant did not have to sign the informed consent, to ensure confidentiality. The participants were given the survey and allotted as much time as necessary to complete it. The participants were reminded that they should not put their name anywhere on the survey. Once the survey was complete the participant was asked to place their survey in a brown envelope in order to insure privacy. The participant was then debriefed and encouraged to ask questions. Any questions that the participants had were answered and the participants were thanked and allowed to leave.

Of the 52 participants in this study, there were 30.8% males and 69.2% females. Forty-two point three percent of the participants were White, 36.5% were Black, 9.6% were Hispanic, 5.8% were Asian, and 5.8% classified themselves as Other. The participantsí classification was also taken which included 46.2% freshmen, 13.5% sophomores, 25% juniors, and 15.4% seniors. The descriptive statistics, which include means and standard deviations, of data collected can be found in Table 1. Correlational tests and one way ANOVA tests were used to test the relationship between a healthy lifestyle and college studentsí grade point average. All continuous variables were tested using the Pearson correlation test. The findings were that there were only two significant variables that related to grade point average. First, higher grade point averages were associated with lower fast food consumption (r = -.305, p< .05). Second, higher grade point averages are also associated with skipping fewer meals per day (r = -.330, p< .05). Categorical variables were tested with one way ANOVA tests, which compared smoking status, level of daytime activity, amount of food consumed at one time, and a personís typical eating style to grade point average. These tests showed no significance to grade point average. With regards to the hypothesis that diet, exercise, and sleep would be positively related to grade point average, it was found that the only significant relationship lies in the area of dietary habits. The other portion of the hypothesis, which stated that alcohol and tobacco use would be negatively related to grade point average, was not supported (see Table 2). Other correlational relationships, which were not connected to the hypothesis, were found to be significant. Amount of alcohol consumed was positively correlated to the amount of cigarettes smoked (r = .508, p< .001). The analysis also showed that the more times a student attended class drunk, the more cigarettes they smoked (r = .495, p< .001). More cigarettes smoked was associated with missing class due to a hangover (r = .529, p< .001). The number of cigarettes smoked was also related to the perception that one had received a lower grade because of alcohol consumption (r = .474, p< .001).

The hypothesis that a healthy lifestyle would be related to grade point average was partially supported by the data that was collected. Diet was the only factor out of five components of a healthy lifestyle that showed any significance to grade point average. This finding supports the dietary guidelines set in place by the Department of Agriculture, which says that in order to stay healthy a person must have a varied diet and eat the proper amounts of food (Department of Health and Human Services & U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2000). Past research in the area of diet and grade point average is scarce, but assuming that the dietary guidelines are considered to be the model for how a person should eat, this would lead me to believe that adherence to these guidelines should be practiced in order to achieve proper cognitive functioning. The findings of this study have been counter to previous research which found that sleep is a factor of a healthy lifestyle that is related to grade point average. For example, Pilcher and Walters (1997) found that sleep deprivation is negatively affecting studentís cognitive abilities to perform on exam and be alert during class. The findings of the current study were also counter to research done in the area of exercise, which showed that students who involve themselves in some physical activity have higher grade point averages (Field, Diego, & Sanders, 2001). Finally, the current study was also counter to the research done in the area of alcohol and tobacco use, which found that lower academic performance was associated with substance abuse (Diego, Field, & Sanders, 2003). Although the hypothesis was not fully supported, there were some findings that were interesting in this study. The data showed that alcohol consumption was associated with tobacco use. This also led to further analyses which found that coming to class drunk, coming to class with a hangover, and receiving a lower grade were all positively related to alcohol consumption. While this study did not investigate previous research, which relates these particular factors, I would assume that the two variables are related because of their ability to cause addictions (Department of Health and Human Services & U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2000). The implications of the current study are that there should be more emphasis on dietary habits. This emphasis should begin in adolescence because the eating habits that a person has in college will usually continue into adulthood (Haberman & Luffey, 1998). College campuses should have programs that target the studentsí daily food consumption, such as the types of food they are eating, the amount of those particular foods, and how often they are eating. Colleges should institute a special department for nutrition education so that they may help their students to develop healthy eating habits. If students take advantage of these services, according to the findings of this study, they may possibly see an increase in grade point average. This study should also suggest to students that they should practice healthy eating habits for themselves so that they may display proper cognitive functioning. This study included several limitations. First, the participants pool was confined to only undergraduates at Loyola University New Orleans. Second, the survey that was used as our measuring tool was taken from several online surveys and therefore was adapted to fit this particular study. This was not the best option because the survey was not already established as a valid measure of a healthy lifestyle. Also, the self-report on the survey may be inaccurate. We are relying on the participants to be honest with their answers, but there is no way to really be sure that the answers are truthful. Finally, there were not a wide variety of grade point averages present in the data collected. This was most likely due to the fact that if a student has an extremely low grade point average they would not be at Loyola and they would not be volunteering to participate in the study. The findings of the current study pave the way for other researchers to do future research in the area of diet and grade point average. Researchers should open their study up to a larger participant pool of undergraduates possibly at multiple universities. They should also try to find a survey or another type of measuring tool, which has already been established as a valid measure of dietary habits. These suggestions for future research can be beneficial to the field of psychology in that the findings can provide both teachers and students with knowledge that will help to better college studentsí grade point averages and increase healthy living.

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American Lung Association Fact Sheet: Smoking. (2003). Retrieved March 4,2004, from http://www.lungus.org/tobacco/smoking_factsheet99.html

Anding, J.D., Suminski, R.R., & Boss, L. (2001). Dietary intake, body mass index,exercise, and alcohol: Are college women following the dietary guidelines for Americans. Journal of American College Health, 49, 167-171.

Buboltz, W.C., Brown, F., & Soper, B. (2001). Sleep habits and patterns of college students: A preliminary study. Journal of American College Health, 50, 131-135.

Budd, G.M., & Preston, D.B. (2001). College studentsí attitudes and beliefs about the consequences of smoking: Development and normative scores of a new scale. Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, 13, 421-427.

Department of Health and Human Services & U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2000). Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for American. Retrieved March 4,2004, from http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2000/document/buil.htm

Diego, M.A., Field, T.M., & Sanders, C.E. (2003). Academic performance, popularity, and depression predict adolescent substance abuse. Adolescence, 38, 35-42.

Engs, R.C. (1992). Student Health and Lifestyle Questionnaire. Indiana University. Retrieved February 4, 2004, from http://www.indiana.edu/~engs/quest/shq.html

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Engs, R.C. (2002). The Student Alcohol Questionnaire(SAQ). Indiana University. Retrieved February 4, 2004, from http://www.indiana.edu/~engs/quet/saq.html

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Survey of Health Behaviors

Fill in the blanks and check the following that apply.

Gender: Male_____ Female_____

Age: _____

Race: White_____ Black_____ Hispanic_____ Asian_____ Native American_____ Other_____

Classification: Freshman_____ Sophomore_____ Junior_____ Senior_____

Program of Study/Major: ___________________________________

Grade Point Average: ________________

Circle the correct answer.

On average, how many hours of sleep do you get each night? ________hours per night

On average, how many days per week do you wake up and feel groggy? ________days per week

On average, how many times do you nap each day? ________times per day

On average, what time do you go to bed each night? ________a.m. or p.m. (circle one)

On average, what time do you wake up each morning? ________a.m. or p.m. (circle one)

How often do you have a full nightís uninterrupted sleep and wake up feeling refreshed? ________nights per week

What is your situation regarding smoking?a. I currently smokeb. I am a social smokerc. I have smoked in the past, but do not at presentd. I have never smoked

During the past month, how many days have you used tobacco? ________days per week

On those days when you smoke, how many cigarettes would you normally smoke? ________cigarettes

Which best describes your daytime activity?a. Low physical activityb. Moderate physical activityc. High physical activity

How often do you exercise? ________times per week

If less than once a week: ________times per month

What type of exercise do you engage in? (Check all that apply)Walking_____Swimming_____Stair climbing_____Stationary or real bike_____Jogging_____Weight training_____Running_____

When you exercise, on the average how many minutes do you engage in the exercise activity? ________minutes

During the past month, how many times have you consumed an alcoholic beverage? ________times per week If less than once a week: ________times per month

How many times during the past year have you come to class after having several drinks? ________times in the past year

How many times during the past year have you missed a class because of a hangover? ________times in the past year

How many times during the past year have you received a lower grade because of drinking too much? ________times in the past year

How many glasses of water do you drink in a day? ________glasses per day

Which most closely describes the amount of food you eat at one time?a. Select a reasonable portion, stop eating when fullb. Eat what is served and clean the platec. Eat additional helpings to satisfy tastesd. Eat until full an then eat desserts

How often do you eat convenience/fast food? ________times per week

How often do you skip meals? (Not eat three meals per day) ________times per day

How often do you snack on candy, cookies, ice cream or other foods of this type? ________times per day

Which pattern of eating typifies your style?a. Regular meals at frequent intervalsb. Occasionally skipping a mealc. Skipping breakfast or lunchd. Skipping meals during the day and eating only the evening meal


Descriptive Statistics

Health Variable M SD

Gender .69 .47Age 19.50 1.11GPA 3.41 .45Hours of sleep per night 6.23 1.26Grogginess per week 4.06 1.97Naps per week .73 1.16Full nightís sleep per week 2.48 1.73Smoking status 3.47 .88Cigarettes per day .58 1.36Daytime activity 1.96 .53Exercise frequency per mo. 11.12 7.06Minutes of exercise per day 54.42 32.03Alcohol consumption per mo. 5.83 6.03Attending class drunk per yr. .94 5.02Hangovers during class per yr. .81 2.44Alcoholís affect on grades per yr. .25 1.41Glasses of water per day 3.71 3.05Fast food per week 1.88 1.41Skipped meals per day 1.07 .74Junk food per day 1.27 .99

Note. N= 52.


Non-significant Data

Variables r p

Hours of sleep per night .139 .326Cigarettes per day -.137 .334Minutes of exercise per day -.067 .636Alcohol consumption per mo. .038 .789

Note. N = 52.

Submitted 5/10/2004 2:31:37 PM
Last Edited 5/10/2004 4:34:38 PM
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