Social-Emotional Functioning Explains the Effects of Physical Activity on Academic Performance among Chinese Primary School Students: A Mediation Analysis

J Pediatr. 2019 May;208:74-80. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2018.11.045. Epub 2019 Jan 4.


Objective: To examine the mediating effects of socioemotional and behavioral functioning in the association between physical activity and academic achievement in Chinese children.

Study design: Chinese children (n = 17 318; aged 6-11 years) from the Shanghai Children's Health, Education and Lifestyle Evaluation study in 2014 were the source of data. Children reported the time spent in moderate-to-vigorous physical activities (MVPA) during weekdays and weekends. Parents rated their children's socioemotional and behavioral difficulties. Head teachers rated the academic performance of each student. A mediation analysis with multiple mediators was performed to test the mediation effects of 5 socioemotional and behavioral variables (emotional problems, conduct problems, hyperactivity and inattention, peer relationship, and prosocial behaviors) in the association between MVPA and academic achievement, adjusting for demographic and health-related variables.

Results: Results revealed that MVPA was positively associated with academic performance (b = 0.78; SE = .01; P < .001). Conduct problems, hyperactivity and inattention, and peer problems showed significant mediating effects in the association between MVPA and academic achievement, with hyperactivity and inattention being the strongest mediator (b = 0.38; SE = 0.04; P < .001) accounting for 49% of the total effect.

Conclusions: This study provides evidence that MVPA is associated with fewer socioemotional difficulties, which, in turn, is associated with better academic achievement. Promoting physical activity among school-aged children may benefit their overall development.

Keywords: conduct problems; emotional problems; hyperactivity and inattention; moderate-to-vigorous physical activities; peer relationship; prosocial behaviors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Academic Performance*
  • Asian Continental Ancestry Group*
  • Attention Deficit and Disruptive Behavior Disorders / psychology*
  • Child
  • China
  • Emotions*
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Behavior*