Healthy, balanced diet supplies the body with all the nutrients needed for its day-to-day functioning. Good nutrition protects the body from infection and disease, controls weight, promotes healthy body growth, provides energy to stay physically and mentally fit, and helps to keep the skin, hair, nails, and teeth healthy. Although it is quite common to hear people talk about nutrition’s importance, I wondered what experts would say about this topic as it relates specifically to students. Therefore, I chose to research how nutrition might affect students’ achievement. This paper will be divided into three main topics: 1) a healthy, balanced diet for students and adolescents; 2) maximum achievement in the classroom, and 3) an analysis of the relationship between nutrition and students’ achievement. Section one will include certified recommendations for nutritious eating. Section two will be subdivided by explaining how good nutrition affects the body and why good nutrition is imperative for students. Section two will also include analysis of scientific studies as they pertain to the subject matter. Section three will provide tips for students, parents and teachers as well as links that they can follow to find various resources including interactive games and co-curricular activities.
- Healthy, Balanced Diet for Students and Adolescents
According to Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (2010), a healthy and balanced diet for students and adolescents must contain all the required nutrients in correct proportions. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) believes that a low-fat, high-fiber diet promotes health and prevents diseases. It is recommended that 55% of the calorie intake of students should be carbohydrates, 30% fat and 15% proteins. In addition, saturated fat intake should not exceed 10% of the total calorie intake. Highly processed foods should be avoided, because they contain a large amount of fat and sugar as well as preservatives, artificial sweeteners and other additives. The USDA has divided food into four basic groups: dairy, meat and eggs, grains, and fruits and vegetables. MyPlate is a U.S. dietary tool created by the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP); it is a replacement to MyPyramid. It provides a simple and straightforward message to fill your plate with a little more than 1/4vegetables, a little less than 1/4 fruit, 1/4 grains (make at least half of them whole-grain), and 1/4 lean protein. Add a glass of 1% or non-fat milk for a complete well-balance nutritious meal (Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, 2010). Proper growth and development can be obtained through healthy eating in childhood and adolescence.
The USDA recommends a low-fat, high-fiber diet to promote health and prevent disease. Highly processed foods should be avoided due to the high fat and sugar content. Preservatives, artificial sweeteners and other additives should be avoided as well. MyPlate can be referred to when considering what constitutes a healthy balanced diet for students and adolescents. Ultimately, healthy eating in childhood and adolescence is important for proper growth and development as will be shown in the following sections.
2. Maximum Achievement in the Classroom
Human body is pervasively and profoundly affected by diet. In addition to preventing disease, a healthy diet during childhood can also impact brain development. Among the vast array of published studies on diet and health, one with the most robust findings is the value of eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. A well-balanced diet is critical for the general wellbeing of the human body. Students can benefit tremendously from a healthy diet.
There are numerous studies that have been conducted, which state that poor nutrition has an effect on the performance of students. The deficiency of iron in the diet of a child has been linked to the inability by a child to concentrate and be alert in class. Students who suffer from iron deficiency are also irritable and have a short concentration span. Students who do not eat enough food have been found to have low performance in class, especially in subjects such as math and often had to repeat certain grades due to low scores. Some of these students were found by researchers to have psychological problems and would sometimes be suspended from school as a result of misbehavior (Vickers & Catherine, 1999). The quality of diet consumed has a direct impact of the conduct and performance of the student.
A child who misses breakfast has also been found to participate less in class and other activities in school. Well nourished students are generally more active in school programs and score better results. These students who are better nourished also attend school on a regular basis and are much more active. Schools that have resorted to providing students with breakfast have reported fewer absences and less psychological problems in school.
The kind of food that a student takes has a direct impact on the performance of a child. Those students who are careful about the types of foods they take have been reported to perform better academically than those who do not. Nutrition which is inadequate has been known to negatively influence the level of intelligence of a child and his or her academic performance. If a child takes less protein or less iron, he or she will perform poorly in school.
These students who have poor nutrition normally end up scoring lower on tests such as vocabulary, comprehension reading, general knowledge and arithmetic. Students who do not eat breakfast are not able to score well in tests that require them to work with speed or to be accurate in the way they solve particular problems. Scholars who have researched on the connection between academic achievement and nutrition have discovered that students who have anemia or iron deficiency are normally fatigued, irritable, have a shorter concentration and attention span. The results of these are that these students have poor vocabulary, find it hard to read and score low grades in math tests. The America Journal of Clinical Nutrition also states that protein has also been known to increase alertness in students (Vickers & Catherine, 1999). In summary, the quantity and quality of food consumed by growing individuals has a direct impact on brain performance. School going children must be fed on adequate diets to boost their brain capabilities.
Research has also shown that when students who are slightly malnourished are exposed to proper nutrition, they tend to perform better. This shows that proper nutrition is able to correct some of these impairments. Nutrition has been found to lay proper foundation for a brain that is retentive and alert. Proper nutrition provides a learner with a high energy level which shows that good academic performance is dependent to a large extent on proper eating habits. Proper nutrition in students should be the responsibility of their parents or the adults who take care of the young ones.
The food that a child eats will provide the child with enough energy so that his or her body requires in order to function with its maximum ability. Each and every organ in a child's body requires adequate energy and nutrition. All the body cells, the ones in the brain included, require energy and nutrients in order to function and for repair. the same where the body requires a nutrition that is balanced which consists of protein, minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates, water and fat, the brain too require the same balanced nutrition.
The brain consists of a nervous system which is very intricate, and this is why balanced nutrition is important for its proper functioning. Water is also required for students to perform well academically. The body requires at least one milliliter of water for every calorie ingested. This means that a child who consumes 2,000 calories needs to take 2,000 milliliters of water in order for the nutrition to be balanced. 2,000 milliliters is the same as 8.3 cups of water that a child should take per day.
Students and teenagers who are obese normally experience potential problems with their health as they get older. Some of these potential problems include risks of getting certain kinds of cancer, heart attacks or even diabetes. Apart from these health-related complications, these students’ career or college prospects may also be harmed as a result. Recent research has established that poor performance in some students has been attributed to the fact that these students are obese. Obesity occurs as a result of many other factors, but mostly it occurs as a result of an unbalanced nutrition.
This poor performance as a result of obesity has been established to start as early as from the kindergarten. Students who are obese, especially females, have been found to score lower on tests when compared to their counterparts who are smaller in size. Such girls normally end up repeating grades and may end up not continuing to college as a result of these low test scores.
A study published in the journal ‘Child Development’, which followed about six thousand different students all the way from kindergarten to the fifth grade, established that the obese students in these grades tended to score lower on math tests when compared to those students who were not obese. This pattern of low performance continued even when the researchers considered all the other factors apart from obesity that could have led to these low grades. Some of these factors included race, the level of education of parents, family income, jobs done by the parents and the expectations that both parents have on the performance of the child while in school (Pollitt, 1995). The survey concluded that students who consume a lot of fats and excess carbohydrates perform poorly in exact sciences.
Those students that started kindergarten when they were already overweight performed worse than the other students in class. Both boys and girls who were overweight scored less in many of tests, and this poor performance which clearly emerged at the first grade continued till the students reached the fifth grade. The lead researcher (Pollitt, 1995), who is an associate professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia and specializes in nutrition and exercise physiology, states that academic performance is clearly associated with unbalanced nutrition.
This research was also limited to a certain extent. There were some inconsistencies which were revealed, especially when it came to differences in gender and age. The researchers noticed that obesity did not affect the performance of boys who were obese as much as it affected performance of girls. In addition, the impact was less if the students gained weight or became obese in later grades as opposed to the impact it had if the students entered kindergarten when they were already obese.
The obesity and physical fitness in students affects the way they perform in school. Another senior researcher who is based at Stanford University’s, Rebecca London, PhD, who specializes in the youth, insists that for students to perform better, they need to have a proper and balanced nutrition each day. London is quick to point out that this link between obesity and performance of students at school is quite complicated and should be treated with caution. She states that it has not been established conclusively whether there is a direct correlation between obesity and poor performance in school (U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010). The department established that exercises and physical fitness contribute positively to good performance.
According to London, it is not very clear whether it is the extra kilos that result in obesity affect the way a child performs or it is something that comes with obesity and not the pounds. Many researchers have tried to establish this connection with some of them in setting that it is the overall fitness of a child that affects the performance and not the extra pounds which come with obesity. A child with a healthy body mass index (BMI) who is strong and physically fir will most likely perform better than the one who is unhealthy and generally unfit.
Students who lack proper nutrition also tend to lack proper social skills. They normally end up showing signs of being lonely, sad, anxious, and have low self-esteem. Teachers have noticed that such students lack enthusiasm and are less active in class. These students normally have difficulties handling their emotions when compared with their peers who are healthy. The most affected, as the research has shown, are the girls who have less friends and tend to keep to them. Their emotional well-being and their social skills were quite wanting and normally affected their performance in school (Evans, et. al, 2012). Eating food with required nutrients in the right proportion boosts students social skills.
While it is not very clear whether unbalanced nutrition creates emotional problems in students, students who are unhealthy generally isolate themselves and do not associate much with their peers. These students, as a result of having low self-esteem, are more vulnerable to being bullied and stigmatized by their popular peers. These students have social skills which are poor and are normally sad. The result is that they isolate themselves, develop poor eating habits and end up only adding more weight, especially when they turn to food as a source of comfort. Such students usually end up not achieving much in school as they do not pay attention while in class and are very distracted and never answer questions in class.
One element of learning that is normally affected by poor nutrition is literacy. This particularly happens in the fifth grade in the lives of students. Kaiser & Townsend (2005) state that students who suffered from poor nutrition could not read and write as well as those who did not. After studying the effects that weight, height, diet and other demographics have on the performance, Florence states that there is indeed a strong relationship between poor literacy and poor nutrition. She insists that the quality of diet that students are exposed to determines the level of performance of the child. A child who gets proper nutrition is able to perform better in school than the one who suffers from poor nutrition. Boys were however more affected by poor nutrition than girls. Again, students from healthy families were also less affected when compared to students who were from poor families (Kaiser & Townsend, 2005). The quality of nutrients consumed affects boys performance more compared to girls.
Taras (2005) stated that there are negative consequences to the learning process that arise as a result of food insecurity. Simple mathematical skills and literacy are most adversely affected by food insecurity as these students are not able to focus while they are in class. According to Jyoti, the achievement of social development and educational milestones depended to a large extent on the quality of nutrition that the students are exposed to.
The other aspect of education that is affected by poor nutrition is the attentive nature of the child. Dr. Jocelyn Elders who was the U.S. Surgeon General insists that it does not make any sense to teach a child who is not attentive. Attention can be affected when a child is hungry, sick or is not receiving proper kind of nutrition. The ability of a child to be attentive in class depends on his or her physical fitness and whether or not the child is exposed to a nutritious diet.
- Effects of Food on the Body
Murphy, et al. (1998) established that food has various effects on the body of a child. Students who do not eat health foods may end up being obese. Obesity has various effects on the performance and general behavior of a child. A child who suffers from obesity may have emotional as well as social problems that may stop them from interacting well with the other students. Childhood obesity has led to properly documented health problems such as diabetes, asthma and even sleeping disorders. Such health problems normally end up interfering with the education of a child as they may have to spend time away from class when they have to seek medication.
When students do not eat a balanced diet, they may have trouble sleeping at night. This will also interfere with the learning process as the child will not be attentive when being taught. When a child does not eat proper meals and gains excessive weight, his or her brainpower may be sapped by the excess weight gained. When the excess weight saps the brainpower of a child, there may be an inflammation in the child’s head. Obesity has the ability to affect functioning of every organ in a child's body. The brain can also be impaired in the process which could affect learning. The brain may end up in an inflammatory state which is not good for a child whose mind is still developing.
While there are other events in life of a child such as problems that the child may be experiencing at home, poverty, and separation by parents, low self esteem or death by a family member that may affect his or her performance, diet has been found to also play a major role in the performance of a child. It is therefore important to involve students in the decision about what is to be eaten at home. The amount of what a child should be allowed to have or what he or she eats will depend on the age of a child (Reedy & Krebs-Smith, 2010). Poor diet has a direct negative impact to an individual during formative stages.
Nutrition is very important to the healthy development of students. They should always have a balanced diet at all times and drink much water. Exercise is also important to the healthy development of students which eventually affects the way they perform. In order to achieve much, it is important that all stakeholders are involved in the process. Stakeholders here include parents of the students, teachers at school, guardians and, of course, students. Friends and members of the family should therefore be involved in the process of getting students to live healthy lives.
- Significance for Students
According toBriefel & Johnson (2004), a child requires a well-balanced diet if he or she is to perform to maximum ability. Students therefore require eating enough fruits and vegetables which are fresh. These should be provided in school cafeterias, in classrooms and hallways. Students need to take at least 10-minute exercise periods which are necessary for their physical fitness. This will help increase the attentiveness of the student. Students who are more attentive and healthy perform better in class and have less disciplinary problems.
Park et al. (2012), established that many students who suffer from poor nutrition, especially in poverty stricken areas, also suffer from food insecurity. Food insecurity, according to Diana Jyoti, is the uncertainty that a child suffers through when he or she is not sure whether or not he will have a meal and at what time. Diana Jyoti is a specialist in nutrition who is based at the Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Diana Jyoti, who heads the Division of Nutritional Sciences, says that food insecurity is made worse by the fact that these students are more often than not hungry.
Students who do not eat proper meals that are balanced have been found to perform poorly in school. Those who end up being overweight normally have a lower perception of themselves. Some viewed themselves as being less than the slimmer members of their class and this affected their performance. This low self-esteem, according to researchers, has led to poor performance among those students who are overweight.
Nutrition is extremely important to the healthy development of students. During stages of human development, the quality of food consumed plays a significant role in shaping up an individual. For instance, a child who is not fed on a good diet during formative stages will have improper brain development. This condition will have a lasting impact on the performance of an individual. Therefore, individuals must always have a balanced diet and adequate water. In addition, exercises are important to the healthy development children and affect students performance.
- 3. An Analysis
Institute of Medicine (2004) concluded that it is more evident today, more than ever before that there is need for everyone, especially students in school, to eat healthy foods. A quick check in many school cafeterias, however, does not reveal this as many of the cafeterias do not serve food that would be described as being healthy by any nutritionist. While the administrators in these schools make an attempt at providing fruits and vegetables, fruits and vegetables provided are not appetizing and fresh. Most of them are processed and are high in salt and sugar.
School administrators have over the years shied away from restricting food items that students can purchase and have instead chosen to educate students on healthy eating habits and continue to hope that they will make an informed decision on what to eat. The reality, however, is that many of the students do not help themselves to the canned peas, canned fruit, tomatoes and lettuce many of which do not look appealing at all. Even students who love vegetables choose not to help themselves to these vegetables, because they do not look healthy at all.
- 4. Tips and Resources for Students, Parents, and Teachers
While it is good to let students choose the meals to which they help themselves at the school cafeteria, it is also important to have healthy fruits and vegetables that look attractive. Some of the foods provided at some of these cafeterias cannot be eaten even by adults who love vegetables. When teachers fail to offer foods, which are healthy and appetizing, they are failing in their responsibility to provide the students with proper alternatives. In instances where it is the responsibility of parents to provide packed lunches for students, it is important that they ensure that the lunch they pack for their students is healthy. There are books that both parents and teachers can read to help them in deciding which foods are nutritious and which ones may not be good for the health of the students (Center for disease control, 1998). Students should be discouraged from consuming trendy products, such as energy drinks at the expense of healthy edibles like fresh fruits and other organic products. Consumption of energy drinks increases the amount of sugar in the body and limits student’s concentration leading to poor performance.
School administrations should forge corporation with all concerned stakeholders to provide good nourishment to their students. School authorities must device appropriate means to educate parents on the value and importance of good nutrition to school going children. All the stakeholders must channel their resources in improving the quality of nutrition among students and should also foster a culture of health eating among students.
Credible research findings from the sources cited concluded that nutrition has a direct impact on student performance. Children who are fed on proper diet end up performing well in school. On the other hand, children who are malnourished perform poorly in schools.Students should therefore be involved in the process of preparing meals which are healthy in order to make them feel like they own the decisions made. If they are part of the preparation process, then chances are they will eat the food. The parents can research or ask friends about diets which are healthy and good for students of a particular age. There are also groups on social networks that support healthy eating and will be useful in acquiring new and healthy eating habits. There are also websites that are online which offer information concerning healthy eating habits.
Nutrition is important to the health of students. For the best performance to be realized in students, it is important that all stakeholders come together in an effort to ensure that students get the best nutrition. Good nutrition will keep them happy, healthy, attentive and generally fit. Students should be sensitized about good eating habits and educated about foods that are healthy yet still delicious.