Educational expectations and adolescent health behaviour: an evolutionary approach

Ross David Whitehead, Dorothy Bruce Currie, Jo Inchley, Candace Currie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
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Objectives. Previous research finds adolescents expecting to attend university are more likely to demonstrate health-promoting behaviour than those not expecting university attendance. This suggests public health improvements may be achievable by encouraging adolescents to adopt academic goals. We investigate confounders of this putative relationship, focusing on those identified by evolutionary theory.

Methods. Multi-level logistic regression was used to analyse the 2010 Scottish Health Behaviour in School-aged Children survey (n = 1834).

Results. Adolescents anticipating university attendance exhibited higher levels of engagement in health-protective behaviours (fruit and vegetable consumption, exercise and tooth brushing) and were more likely to avoid health-damaging behaviours (crisps, soft drink and alcohol consumption, tobacco and cannabis use, fighting and intercourse). These relationships persisted when controlling indicators of life history trajectory (pubertal timing, socioeconomic status and father absence). Pupil level: gender, age, perceived academic achievement and peer/family communication and school level: university expectations, affluence, leavers’ destinations, exam performance and school climate were also adjusted.

Conclusions. Encouraging adolescents to consider an academic future may achieve public health benefits, despite social factors that might otherwise precipitate poor health via an accelerated life history trajectory.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)599-608
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Public Health
Issue number5
Early online date21 May 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2015


  • Temporal orientation
  • Academic expectations
  • Adolescent
  • Health behaviour
  • Risk behaviour
  • Life history theory


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