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Thursday 6 February 2020

What Children Eat is Linked to Academic Achievements in Later Years

Before you let your pre-schooler eat that lolly or chip, consider that many studies have found a link between children’s diet and academic performance. Most have found that high academic achievement is related to a healthy diet low in energy dense, nutrient poor food.

This means that snacks, fast food and sugary drinks should be limited if children are to do well in school. Instead, children should be encouraged to eat more healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables.

What is the link between sugar and academic achievement?
Are children getting enough fruit and vegetables?
The current concern about children’s diet is that not many children are eating enough fruit and vegetables. According to the NSW Government Health Statistics, 73% of children between the ages of 2 and 8 years are eating the recommended amount of fruit. However, only 9% of them are eating the recommended amount of vegetables. As children get older, this amount falls to 56% and 4.5%, respectively.
Feed your child more vegetables and fruits
Not only does a diet low in fruit and vegetables have health consequences later in life, it can also affect children’s academic abilities.

Researchers have compared 8 to 15 year old children’s intake of fruit, vegetable, take away food, sugary drinks, and breakfast to their NAPLAN scores in years 3, 5, 7 and 9. The result was that children who had a high intake of vegetables had higher scores whereas those who drank a large amount of sugary drinks had lower scores. 

Train children to eat healthy as early as possible
There is an urgent need to start children eating healthy early. What children eat in the first few years of their life can predict academic achievement in later years.

One study looked at children’s diet in the first three years of life then compared it with their standardised test scores at 10 and 12 years of age. Diet was sorted into seven groups: wholegrain, vegetables, fruits, protein/meat ratio, dairy, snack foods and sweetened drinks.

A link was found to eating more wholegrain, vegetables, fruits, proteins and dairy and a lower intake of snack and sweetened drinks to higher scores in the standardised tests. There was also a link to eating greater amounts of dairy and fruits to higher academic scores.

A healthy eating habit that starts early could be one that stays with children for a lifetime. This could help many children to do well in school and get good grades throughout their schooling years, and maybe beyond that.
Healthy eating starts early
The one thing to avoid
Sweetened drinks such as cordials and soft drinks seem to be one of the culprits that is linked to low academic achievements. To test this further, researchers studied pregnant women’s intake of sugar, drinks and fruit consumption and how they are linked to their children’s thinking abilities at ages 3 and 7 years. They also studied the same children’s intake of these same three things at 3 years of age and if it can predict thinking at 7 years of age.
Sweetened drinks linked to low academic achievements
They have found that children who consumed a high level of fruit during early childhood had greater scores on the thinking ability tests at 7 years of age. However, a high intake of sugar, especially sweetened drinks, during pregnancy and early childhood is associated with lower scores on thinking ability tests. It would be interesting to know if there would be similar results if sugar intake is studied on older children.

The lesson here is that if children are to do well on cognitive tests during school age then eat more fruits and avoid sweetened drinks during the mother’s pregnancy and the child’s early years. Although there are no statistics on younger children’s intake of sweetened drinks, older children are consuming far too much of it. According to the NSW Government, 36% of 5 to 11 year olds and 60% of 12 to 15 year olds drink sweetened beverages regularly.

Play it safe and avoid this too
A high fat diet is probably another culprit that contributes to low academic achievement but there are not many research that studied a high fat diet by itself. Most research on a high fat diet are experimental ones that use rats as test subjects. Conclusions are usually that a high fat diet causes cognitive impairment in rats. This means that it affects their thinking.

For children, without the ability to think properly, it will affect their academic performance and achievement. In the studies mentioned above where fast food is linked to low academic achievement, it is safe to assume that the fast food are high in fat. This is concerning because according to the NSW Government about 59% of 5 to 15 year olds ate hot fried potatoes every week and 41% ate takeaway food every week.
Some might think this is cute but fatty sugary food should be avoided
It is best to be err on the side of safety and avoid high fat food as well.

Are we holding children back?
If children are to do well in school and impact positively on society in terms of contributing to advances in technology, science and knowledge then society needs to help children. They do this by helping children to eat healthier. One way is to encourage an increase in fruit and vegetable consumption. The other way is by helping to limit or avoid a diet high in sugar and fats.
more fruit and vegetables, less sugar and fats

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