A healthy child a better student
Well nourished children are ready to learn. Experts have long discovered the strong link between good nutrition and high achievement in the classroom.
Their research clearly shows that students who are getting essential nutrients, starting with breakfast through dinner are not only growing physically, they are better able to remember, solve problems and make decisions. On the other hand, children who skip that all-important morning meal or have a diet with foods high in sugar, salt and fat can be hyperactive, have a low attention span, and are more susceptible to illness.
This week, the Springer Memorial Secondary School invited fathers and mothers to examine the correlation between good nutrition and learning development, at the first of its Parent University Sessions this school term. Home economics teacher Kerrita Wilson instructed parents to assess their children’s eating habits, as she lamented that too many students started the school day with empty stomachs.
“Too many children are coming in and they are looking sick; and most of the time I ask them, ‘Did you have breakfast?’ Most of the time the answer is no. I want to encourage you to please make sure that they have a wholesome breakfast and also a wholesome lunch as well.”
Wilson who strongly believes there is a connection between diet and learning, undertook a study to find out how the lack of breakfast affected student performance. She randomly selected two groups. The first had a breakfast programme while the other set of students was allowed to function as they normally would. The students were then taught the same material and tested. The findings didn’t support Wilson’s belief.
“Students from both groups performed above the required standard. Everybody passed the test.”
But while she didn’t get the results she expected, she uncovered other worrying facts.
“Most of the children said they didn’t have time for breakfast . . . . Some of them said, ‘Ma’am, I can’t drink tea on mornings’. I asked them on the questionnaire: What does your breakfast consist of? You would be surprised that some would tell you chicken necks. Some had a Coke.
“Sometimes they are walking the streets eating snacks –– everything other than a wholesome breakfast. And then we parents and teachers expect that our children will come into school and function correctly.
We have to ask ourselves why.”
The teacher also revealed that while children understood the importance of good nutrition, their eating habits did not reflect their knowledge.
“They can tell you what the nutrients are; they can tell what the functions are; they can tell me which foods the nutrients can be found in; but they still go have whatever they feel like –– for breakfast and lunch as well.”
Wilson further observed that those children who did not have breakfast had a shorter attention span during morning classes.
“You can tell, because you are teaching and you can have the most exciting lesson . . . but they are hungry. I can’t get the best out of them. And if they didn’t get the breakfast that morning, and lunch isn’t until 11:45, in that prolonged time between they are not able to function as I would like them too.
“I also observed that most lunches consisted of snacks, and a sno-cone, or chicken and chips; and it was so amazing to me, our canteen would provide nutritious meals, well balanced meals; but the children would stop [elsewhere] to buy the chips and chicken.”
Wilson said this was a reflection of the wider society which she described as a “fast food nation”, adding that “every Friday night, nobody wants to cook”. But she warned the trend was having serious consequences, which must be reversed.
“This has led to our children becoming obese, and we have a lot of young children who are suffering with non-communicable diseases like diabetes. We are paying a very high price.”
Wilson stressed it was now time for parents to ensure their children were provided with healthy meals.
“Healthy children mean a healthy society. If we do not feed our children now, ten, 15, 20, 30 years down the road, what will happen to our children? If we pass on bad health habits, our children will pass them on; and eventually we will have a society which does not have an appreciation for healthy eating.”
The home economics teacher advised parents to encourage their children to stay away from foods loaded with sugar and dyes. She recommended the preparation of more attractive meals with more locally grown, inexpensive fruits and vegetables.
“Make food more attractive. You eat with your eyes; what draws you to food; how it looks.”
She also urged parents to teach their children how to read food labels, since even healthy snacks may have too much salt.
“Make it an activity in the supermarket, especially when they want to get snacks.
“It’s okay to say that you are giving them healthy snacks, but we have to make sure we are reading our food labels. My son might not like to use cassava, so I give him cassava chips; but when I look at that it is very high in sodium. So we must make sure we have a balance. We may be getting one thing for one thing – but paying the price for another.”
Wilson further noted that children performed even better when they had the winning combination of healthy, balanced meals and daily physical activity.
“Exercise is very important –– you can eat all the healthy things you can, it will do no good if you do not exercise.”
She ended by reminding the group on hand that we must not cheat on good nutrition –– depriving ourselves of nutrition’s long-term benefits.
“You are what you eat . . . . If we eat unhealthy foods, in a matter of time, we will become quite unhealthy. Whatever you put into your system you are going to get out; so we must make sure that we put good wholesome meals into it.”