School Learning

Understanding How Diet Affects Children And Learning in School

Adequate nutrition plays an importance role in not only the physical development of a child, but their mental development as well. Numerous research studies carried out over the years have clearly demonstrated that there is a direct association between a child’s diet and learning outcomes. A good diet embodies eating enough of the essential nutrients (macronutrients and micronutrients) the body needs. Consuming too little or too much of any nutrient can negatively affect a child’s learning capacity in school (1, 2).

A diet lacking in specific foods like fruits and vegetables has been linked with lower grades in school children. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with nutrients that exhibit several biological activities that boosts brain health and function (3). On the other hand, a high consumption of fast foods, sugary drinks and confectionary has been negatively associated with school performance (4). Diets that are high in saturated and trans fats have been reported to negatively affect learning and memory in children (5). Besides an increase consumption of fast foods and sugary drinks is strongly linked with the onset of childhood obesity. Obese children tend to have a lower self-esteem which has been reported to affect learning and academic performances (6).

Benefits of a good diet for learning

  1. Increases focus, alertness, and memory retention. Well-fed children focus and concentrate better in class because food provides glucose which the brain uses as fuel to function well. Children who do not eat breakfast for example tend to show lower levels of alertness, attention, and memory retention (7). For these reasons, school feeding programs have been instituted in many underdeveloped countries, and some low-income regions in many developed countries. The school breakfast program (SBP) carried out by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), reported an increase in school grades and standardized test scores for all school children who participated (8).

  2. Improves brain health. A good diet that incorporates fruits and vegetables provides enough antioxidants that capture free radicals which cause oxidative stress and destroy brain cells. The brain has a high lipid content and a high metabolic activity level; thus, it is very prone to oxidation reactions by free radicals. Antioxidants from fruits like berries and pomegranates, have been reported to improve short-term memory, sustaining attention and enhance speed of processing (9).

  3. Boosts vision. Carrots, broccoli, and pumpkins are good sources of vitamin A, which when included in a child’s diet boosts vision. Good vision is vital for classroom success as about 80% of all that is stored in the brain comes through what is seen. Besides children are visual learners and research has proven that good vision is paramount to academic performance (10).

  4. Strengthens the immune system. Citrus fruits like oranges, and vegetables like tomatoes, spinach, are rich in vitamin C which strengthens the body’s immunity. Vitamin C is needed to produce white blood cells, that fight off disease causing microbes. A child whose immunity is weak easily falls sick, misses classes, and performs poorly in school (11).

  5. Promotes strong bones. A diet comprising of milk, cheese and yoghurt provides enough calcium which promotes the development of strong bones. Vitamin C also plays a crucial role in enhancing bone health as it increases the absorption of calcium and stimulates the production of collagen, the major constituent of bone mass. Bones provide support for the body frame and enable a child to displace themselves from place to place, including going to school and engaging in normal school activities all which contribute to better academic performance (12, 13).

A child’s diet can positively or negatively affect their learning in school. Higher rates of absenteeism, lower grades and increase tardiness are all outcomes associated with deficiencies of certain key nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, zinc, and folate (14, 15). A good diet on the other hand enhances alertness, focus and memory retention which all result in good academic performances.

 

REFERENCES

  1. Healthy eating learning opportunities and nutrition education. (2022, August 23). Retrieved September 2, 2022, from Cdc.gov website: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/nutrition/school_nutrition_education.htm

  2. Health and Academic achievement. Retrieved September 2, 2022, from Cdc.gov website: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/health_and_academics/pdf/health-academic-achievement.pdf

  3. Carroll, C. (n.d.). Better academic performance: Is nutrition the missing link? By. Retrieved September 1, 2022, from Todaysdietitian.com website: https://www.todaysdietitian.com/pdf/courses/CarrollAcademicPerformance.pdf

  4. Kim, S. Y., Sim, S., Park, B., Kong, I. G., Kim, J.-H., & Choi, H. G. (2016). Dietary habits are associated with school performance in adolescents. Medicine, 95(12), e3096. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000003096

  5. Nutrition and Students’ Academic Performance. (n.d.). Retrieved September 1, 2022, from Wilder.org website: https://www.wilder.org/sites/default/files/imports/Cargill_lit_review_1-14.pdf

  6. Devaux, M., & Vuik, S. (2019). The relationship between childhood obesity and educational outcomes. In The Heavy Burden of Obesity (pp. 101–123). OECD.

  7. Murphy, J. (2007). Breakfast and learning: An updated review. Current Nutrition and Food Science, 3(1), 3–36. doi:10.2174/1573401310703010003

  8. A healthy start to the school day leads to bright opportunities ahead. (n.d.). Retrieved September 1, 2022, from Usda.gov website: https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2018/03/05/healthy-start-school-day-leads-bright-opportunities-ahead

  9. Godos, J., & Grosso, G. (2021). Dietary antioxidants and brain health: Focus on cognitive and affective disorders. Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland), 10(11), 1659. doi:10.3390/antiox10111659

  10. Alvarez-Peregrina, C., Sánchez-Tena, M. Á., Andreu-Vázquez, C., & Villa-Collar, C. (2020). Visual health and academic performance in school-aged children. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(7), 2346. doi:10.3390/ijerph17072346

  11. NIAMS. (2017, April 12). Healthy bones matter. Retrieved September 1, 2022, from National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website: https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/kids/healthy-bones

  12. Carr, A. C., & Maggini, S. (2017). Vitamin C and immune function. Nutrients, 9(11). doi:10.3390/nu9111211

  13. Calcium. (2020, October 19). Retrieved September 2, 2022, from The Nutrition Source website: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/calcium/

  14. Charles E. Basch (2010). Healthier students are better learners: A missing link in school reforms to close achievement gap. Retrieved September 1, 2022, from Equitycampaign.org website: http://www.equitycampaign.org/i/a/document/12557_EquityMattersVol6_Web03082010.pdf

  15. Taras, H. (2005). Nutrition and student performance at school. The Journal of School Health, 75(6), 199–213. doi:10.1111/j.1746-1561.2005.00025.x

 

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