How Healthy Eating Habits Improve School Performance

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Healthy meals are an important factor in school success.

Good nutrition at school can lead to positive academic performance and healthier bones.


Child health experts in the U.S. have been exploring the effects of a child’s diet on academic performance and behavior for more than two decades. Data strongly suggest that students with better nutrition have an increased mental capacity and a lower rate of absenteeism, and generally exhibit less disruptive behavior.
Breakfast is the meal most strongly associated with doing better in school. A 2013 study found that breakfast had a positive effect on children’s academic performance, and children who regularly eat breakfast were found to be more likely to have better overall nutrition, including higher consumption of dietary fiber and lower total fat and cholesterol.

Increased Mental Capacity

Studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Pediatrics, and the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry have all concluded that hungry children have lower math scores, are more likely to repeat a grade, and come to school late. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Educational Research concluded that among participating fifth-grade students, the frequency of eating fast food and salty snacks correlated with lower math and reading scores.
Science generally supports the belief that a balanced diet can positively influence the cognitive ability and intelligence levels of school-aged children. It also favors a wider implementation and investment in school nutrition programs that can improve student access to more healthful food choices and translate into higher academic performance and overall enhanced general health.

Better Attendance

Good nutrition helps students arrive at school ready to learn, and because good nutrition helps children maintain good health, students who eat a balanced diet typically have fewer absences and attend class more consistently.
Research has shown that on the average:

  • Students who eat school breakfast attend 1.5 more days of school per year than those who do not.
  • Students who attend school more regularly are approximately 20 percent more likely to graduate from high school.
  • High school graduates earn about $10,090 more per year and have a four percent higher employment rate than those who do not graduate.

Positive Behavior

According to the National Education Association (NEA), studies of school breakfast programs in Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, and Rhode Island have found that students who eat breakfast at school exhibit fewer behavioral and psychological problems.
A 2008 British study found that while nutrition is vital for physical health, it is equally important for mental health, and a diet lacking in essential nutrients is detrimental to the healthy functioning of the brain. Researchers found that a deficiency of omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) is associated with certain mental and behavioral disorders, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, dementia, dyspraxia, and an increase in impulsivity and aggressive behavior, although this association is not fully understood.

Stronger, Healthier Bones for Active Students

Healthy eating can also help with the prevention and healing of back pain. Leafy greens like kale and spinach provide calcium to build strong bones, so keeping your fridge stocked with these fresh whole foods will set your kids up for success this school year as they carry heavy backpacks and return to their favorite sports.
Also be aware of your family’s vitamin D intake. According to the National Institutes of Health, a lack of vitamin D can hinder your body from absorbing calcium and cause bones to grow brittle. Try a high-quality supplement or do more outdoor activities to keep your family active and healthy.
Vitamin A can promote bone growth, but if you’re filling your pantry with fortified cereals and certain dietary supplements, you may be consuming the less-preferred form of the vitamin known as Retinol. Too much retinol can actually break bones down, so be sure to eat a variety of dark orange veggies like sweet potatoes and carrots, along with leafy greens like mustard and turnip. These types of fresh foods provide the safer form of vitamin A (beta-carotene) and provide more nutritional content altogether.

Good Nutrition Can Lead to Positive Academic Performance

All children have the potential to achieve in school, but poor nutrition can put them at risk for missing out on this potential. Providing more healthful food choices in school and at home can help position students for a successful academic future.
Image By xixinxing / 123RF Stock Photo.

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