Diet can help or hinder children in the classroom

FALLBROOK – Children who are not regularly consuming a healthy and balanced diet may not be receiving the nutrients sufficient for sustained energy and mental acuity. Junk food and high-sugar snacks can affect the body in a number of ways.

A 2009 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that children who routinely ate a diet high in junk foods were more likely to be hyperactive than those who did not. Hyperactive children may struggle to concentrate on simple tasks or find it difficult to focus on more complex matters, such as those presented in a classroom.

The Women’s and Children’s Health Network notes that diet can influence children’s study habits. Foods high in sugar can deplete energy levels and compromise a student’s ability to concentrate for extended periods of time. In an Oxford University study published in FASEB Journal in 2009, researchers tested the cognitive effects a high fat and junk food diet had on rats. After nine days, the rats that ate the junk food were put into a maze and tested against rats that ate a more balanced diet. Rats fueled by the junk food struggled to navigate the maze and made more mistakes than the rats that were given a healthy diet.

Concentration is not the only problem linked to a poor diet. Children who regularly eat junk food have a higher risk for obesity and other conditions. According to the Prevention Institute, junk food shoulders some of the blame for rising rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke, and children who regularly consume junk food have higher rates of chronic illness. Children who are routinely sick and have to stay home from school may miss important lessons and fall behind in their studies.

Children with obesity that is linked to poor food choices may have higher levels of depression and poor self-esteem. These psychological conditions can have their own profound effects on learning ability and concentration. Disinterest in school or in being around peers may set in. Nutritionists at The Mayo Clinic say that eating high amounts of junk food may result in depression.

The effects of junk food and other dietary choices can easily be changed by altering a child’s eating habits. Children who eat foods made from complex nutrients often experience a renewed ability to concentrate and focus. Diets high in complex carbohydrates, fiber, lean protein, fruits, and vegetables will release a stead supply of energy through bodily metabolism, and this will help prevent the blood sugar peaks and crashes associated with foods high in refined sugar and simple carbohydrates.

The addition of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in walnuts, oily, cold-water fish, olive oil, and flax seed, can keep children feeling full and improve their mental acuity. All brands of baby formula currently sold in the United States are now fortified with omega-3 fatty acids in the form of DHA and ARA. Some studies in infants suggest that including these fatty acids in infant formulas may have positive effects on visual function and neural development over the short term.

It can be easy to blame declining school progress on insufficient study habits or poor connection with a teacher. However, a child’s diet can help or hinder his or her academic performance as well.

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