Healthy Diet Important for Academic Success
> 4/15/2008 12:28:53 PM

Obesity remains a significant problem among Americans, and many studies have looked at how unhealthy eating might originate in childhood. Research in this area has shown that a poor diet can have many health consequences for children, but also that healthy eating habits hold an important positive influence. Children who eat breakfast regularly, for instance, are less likely to be overweight. Now, new research from the Journal of School Health shows how the benefits of healthy eating spill over into other areas of life. In studying the overall diet and school performance of 5,200 students, Canadian researchers from Dalhousie University and the University of Alberta identified an association between healthy diet and academic success.

As part of the Children's Lifestyle and School-performance Study, the students, all fifth-graders, and their parents answered surveys about their diet, weight, height, and socioeconomic background. The researchers then examined the quality of the students' diets using several measures of healthy eating, including the amount and variety of food they ate and the nutritional value of their meals. To gauge the students' school performance, the researchers analyzed their scores on a standardized literary assessment. 19 percent of the students failed this assessment, and those who reported diets high in fruit and vegetables and low in fat achieved significantly better scores. Compared to those who had the lowest scores on measures of a quality diet, students with the highest scores were 41 percent less likely to fail.

These results held even when the researchers controlled for such factors as gender, the school the students had attended, and the parents' incomes and levels of education. Still, it's important to recognize the impact that these factors can have on a child's health and development, as well as the relationship between diet and socioeconomic status. While obesity rates have risen in recent years, so has the cost of healthy food. In the current study, the researchers noted other characteristics that were associated with better academic performance, including coming from an advantaged home and living in a wealthy neighborhood, and poverty may play an important role both in diet and school achievements. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds may be more likely to have a poor diet, and, because their families may be less able to provide help and support, they may also be at risk for worse outcomes in school.

Obesity rates among children also remain a pressing issue, and parents and schools can help children to avoid weight gain by introducing them to nutritious food and encouraging them to develop healthy eating habits. With early lessons on the benefits of a good diet, children may adopt positive behaviors that will help them maintain their health throughout their lives. This study has provided further proof that a healthy diet is a crucial element of children's development, influencing their health as well as their academic success.

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