Good nutrition is essential for students to be able to attend school prepared to learn. Studies have shown that malnutrition can lead to behavioral problems, and that sugar has a negative impact on children's behavior. However, these effects can be counteracted when children eat a balanced diet that includes proteins, fats, complex carbohydrates, and fiber. This helps students have more time in class and fewer interruptions in learning throughout the school year.
In addition, student behavior can improve and cause fewer classroom disruptions, creating a better learning environment for each student. Nutrition also plays an important role in school performance. Children who follow diets lacking in healthy fruits, vegetables and proteins tend to score lower on tests than their peers, and hunger can cause children to miss school or have to repeat grades. When children have access to adequate nutrition and healthy food options, there is an overall increase in academic performance, particularly in mathematics and reading. The link between nutrition, development and academic performance is clear, and we know that access to adequate nutrition can be a challenge for children living in poverty. Schools and communities that focus on providing free, nutritious meals and snacks to all children can help level the playing field for those who don't have access to those foods outside of school.
It is also important to teach children and families about nutrition, but it is equally important not to judge parents who are unable to provide nutritious food to their children. Since all problems are related to deep-seated systemic problems such as poverty and food deserts, we can continue to work on policies and support companies that will work to completely eliminate food deserts. Research has shown that the fastest period of brain development is the first few years of life, so nutrition during childhood can lay the foundation for lifelong brain function. Today's consumers are looking for foods and dietary supplements that improve physical health and well-being, as well as foods “for the brain” that improve cognition, mental acuity and emotional well-being. A study published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism in February 2002 followed students for six months prior to the start of the program until six months after their participation in the program. Reddan and his colleagues reported in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior between January and February 2002 that schools with Universal Free Breakfast (UFB) programs reported having students with more energy and better attention than schools without those programs. Ensuring that nutrition standards remain strong in school nutrition programs should be a priority for all members of school staff, including superintendents, principals and teachers.
Several studies show that nutritional status can directly affect the mental capacity of school-age children. The authors' analysis showed that when comparing the cost of improvements in meals with that of decreasing class sizes, the increase in nutritional quality gained in terms of cost-benefit ratio. These two factors - the increase in cost and lack of access to healthy food - make it especially difficult for families living in poverty to provide the best nutrition to their children. According to Stephanie Simms Hodges, MS, MPH, RDN, founder of The Nourished Principles in Charleston, South Carolina area: “nutritious school meals are as important to children as textbooks, school supplies and transportation”.Extensive evidence suggests that students who face food insecurity (i.e., a general lack of sufficient food or sufficient nutritious food to maintain good health) at home tend to have less favorable academic outcomes than their better-nourished peers. Eating too many nutritionally deficient foods and beverages that are high in added fats, sugars and salt has been linked to emotional and behavioral problems in children and teenagers.
This unforeseen outcome reveals a powerful connection between health and education, suggesting that a learning environment that offers a combination of pediatric medical care, healthy nutrition, and a stable curriculum literally changes lives.