Are Home-Schooled Kids Less Healthy?

Mar 18, 2020 by

Both parents and teachers worry about the health of the children they’re educating. When it comes to home-schoolers, some people may have preconceived notions about their wellness. They may think these students are less likely to get enough physical activity since they probably don’t have recess or classes dedicated to physical education.

However, while physical fitness is a significant part of a child’s overall health — and a variable worth discussing — it isn’t the only factor. Many other things, including mental stability and sociability, also contribute to students’ health.

Physical Fitness 

The most measurable components of children’s’ health are weight and diet. These determine how physically fit a student is, and they mark how many scientists, educators and parents judge healthiness. So do home-schoolers weigh and eat more than traditionally schooled kids?

One Texas study seems to support this hypothesis, at least in part. In this experiment, scientists observed 36 pairs of home-schooled and public-school adolescents ages seven to 11. Each participant wore a fitness tracker and recorded their food intake for a week. The results showed public-school children had higher activity levels and more steps than their counterparts, suggesting they were more physically fit. However, there wasn’t much difference in dietary intake between the two groups. 

However, a study conducted in Alabama suggests the exact opposite. Between 47 home-schooled kids and 48 traditionally schooled children ages seven to 12, traditionally-schooled children consumed about 120 more total kilocalories per day. At lunch, they ate foods higher in sodium, potassium, calcium and sugar than home-schooled students. Moreover, these public-school students ate more trans fats and fewer fruits, vegetables and sources of fiber. Home-schooled adolescents had significantly lower BMI percentages, trunk fat and fat mass. 

Relationships and Sociability 

Physical health isn’t the only component of a healthy student. Social development also plays a prominent role in kids’ health, home-schooled or not. But do home-schooled children have the same opportunities to socialize as their public school counterparts? 

Regarding opportunities to strengthen familial relationships, the answer is yes. Most families who have decided to educate their children at home believe this has helped them bond. But the parent-child bond isn’t the only one that becomes stronger through home schooling. Home-based education also allows siblings to connect, assist one another with assignments and grow closer. What about social relationships outside the home?

One researcher found that home-schooled children were involved in about five activities each week, including field trips, sports, music lessons and Bible groups, to name a few. Through these natural life experiences — rather than structured, classroom exercises — students learn to socialize. As long as home-schoolers network with others like them and do activities outside the home, they will learn to socialize just as well as any traditionally schooled child. 

Mental Stability 

Some parents may choose to home-school because their child either doesn’t behave well in school or has physical or mental disabilities that make attending a public school difficult. In this case, these children may already struggle with mental illnesses or learning disorders like Attention Deficit Disorder, depression, anxiety or even dyslexia. 

If researchers compared this grouping with public-school children, they may report that home-schooled kids struggle with mental health more than traditionally schooled ones, even though home schooling may be improving these children’s mental health. 

But if scientists were to look at the general population of traditionally schooled kids, they would find that 72% of adolescents report school being their most significant stressor. Thus, many kids express interest in being home-schooled or their parents decide to opt out of traditional school. 

And while it certainly isn’t a cure-all for mental illness, home schooling does remove specific stressors and anxiety triggers from education. A home environment can also eliminate distractions for those who may have trouble concentrating or focusing on their work in a traditional classroom setting. 

Health Varies by Individual

As seen above, students’ physical health, regardless of the type of education they receive, depends on individual circumstances. While home-schoolers in Texas may be less fit concerning physical activity, those in Alabama may be healthier regarding nutritional intake. Geography is one essential variable in determining which type of schooling is physically healthier. 

Variables such as socioeconomic status, school lunch nutrition and parenting style may all affect children’s health. Moreover, mental and social health also contribute to the overall healthiness of students. Do the students have a supportive social network or are they mostly isolated — regardless of schooling style? While some research may provide proof of home-schoolers being healthier, other studies might suggest the opposite. 

When it comes down to it, health depends on the individual child and their specific life circumstances. No single student can be exactly like another. Both home-schoolers and traditionally schooled children should take steps to improve their health and wellbeing with parents’ and educators’ help.

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