Smart Nutrition for Better Academic Performance
The type of nutrients students consume makes a significant difference in the students’ academic performance. For many years, studies and research has demonstrated that nutrition affects students’ thinking skills, behavior, and health, all factors that impact academic performance. Research also suggests that diets high in trans and saturated fats can negatively impact learning and memory and nutritional deficiencies early in life can affect the cognitive development of school-aged children. Thus, access to nutrition improves students’ cognition, concentration, and energy levels, all important factors in academic achievement.
For example, one study found that 5th-grade students with less nutritious diets performed worse on a standardized literary assessment (Florence, Asbridge, & Veugelers, 2008). Another study discovered that 5th-grade students who ate more fast food fared worse on math and reading scores (Li & O’Connell, 2012). Similarly, a study that analyzed a healthy eating campaign that banned junk food from schools and introduced healthier, freshly prepared school meals found that participating students scored higher on English and science tests than students who did not take part in the campaign (Belot & James, 2009). Thus, it can be concluded that a poor nutrition can lead to poor grades and scholastic failure; and with better nutrition, students are better able to learn, receive good grades, attend school more often, behave better in class, and less likely to get ill.
Even though nutrition campaigns are abundant, raising awareness on the importance of quality food choice when it comes to students’ achievements and success is still in high demand (especially in public schools). After tabulating the average price per meal in the vendor contracts—and estimating the cost of in-house school meals based on National School Lunch Program reimbursements—a study from the nutrition policy institute found that “it cost about $222 per student per year to switch from in-house school-lunch preparation to a healthier lunch vendor that correlated with a rise of 0.1 standard deviations in the student’s test score. To put that statistic into perspective, healthier meals could raise student achievement by about 4 percentile points on average” (Nutrition Policy Institute,2017).
However, one should think about nutrition beyond schools. Schools and homes are the two places where kids and teens spend most of their time. Educating parents (regardless of their social and economic class) on the importance of smart food choice is mandatory. Healthy changes at home can allow a better atmosphere for students to have energy and eagerness to learn. Dr. John Skretta (superintendent of Norris School District) explained it better by arguing that “It’s all about synergy, not disparity. We have to use wellness to support the overall academic environment”. A better approach should be taken to help students meet their daily nutritional needs (especially low income children). In Minnesota for example, many low-income children are eligible for free breakfast programs, but cannot get to school early enough to participate or avoid the program because of the stigma associated with eating a free breakfast (Hunger-Free Minnesota, 2013).
Good nutrition is unavoidable when it comes to school performance and achievements. With the rise of obesity rates and elevated food insecurity around the world, embracing smart nutrition can be the answer for a healthy student development. Smart eating is then, a main and effective way to increase students’ academic achievements and success.
“Every single young person has to be prepared for a very competitive world economy. They have to be at the top of their game, and for that, they need to be healthy. They need proper nutrition and access to healthy meals at school and at home in order to reach their full potential.” - Tom Vilsack, Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture.