There is a direct link between a child’s diet and their health, academic achievement and behaviour. In short, a child’s diet has a massive impact on their success and future.
Schools should and can play an important role in improving the eating habits, and in turn the academic performance of their students.
The issue of children’s diet and nutrition is an important one in Malaysia, given that Malaysia has the highest proportion of obese and overweight children and adults in South East Asia, and one of the highest globally.
This is the first in a series of blogs, from Vircle, which explores the relationship between a child’s diet, schools and academic performance. Vircle is an ecosystem of child centred services aimed at making “diet a positive foundation for a successful life”.
This series of blogs will consider a number of topics including:
Breakfast, nutrition and performance
Obesity and IQ
Fruits, Vegetables and Dairy Products and their impact on performance
Traffic Light Labelling of food
Nutrients and their impact
This first blog explores the link between school breakfast, nutrition and academic performance.
Breakfast provides nutrition for a child’s performance
At the time of writing this blog, school breakfasts’ are very topical in Malaysia, given the school breakfast program being rolled out across 100 schools by the Ministry of Education.
What is the rationale for such a school breakfast program? Kids who have breakfast, academically outperform kids who do not. In addition, kids who skip breakfast are more likely to be absent and have lower cognitive performance.
In this blog, we summarise and share the findings of a study of US children that clearly shows why school breakfast is so important to children. The key take-aways from this study are:
40% of kids who do not have breakfast have inadequate nutrition, versus 17% amongst those that do have breakfast.Kids with inadequate nutrition are more than 3 times more likely to have cognitive, emotional and behavioural issues.
Kids with adequate nutrition have up-to 37% higher academic scores than kids with inadequate nutrition – maths being the subject were the delta between the two is largest.
The study approach
A group of students were segmented by how often they had school breakfast (often, sometimes, rarely).
They were then tested for their level of nutrition (against recommended daily allowances for children).
Each student was then assessed for specific psychosocial problems – cognitive, emotional and behavioural.
In addition, the General Performance Achievement (GPA) for each child was calculated per subject.
Breakfast and Nutrition
The study discovered a huge difference in the proportion of children who had inadequate nutrition intake, between those children that had school breakfast and those that did not.
Students who rarely had school breakfast were more than twice as likely to have inadequate nutrition and energy intake compared to those that did have school breakfast often.
It is this difference in inadequate nutrition intake which is the big issue.
Inadequate Energy/Nutrition increases child’s psychosocial problems
An alarming result from the study, was the relationship between psychosocial problems and inadequate nutrition. Psychosocial problems being defined as cognitive, emotional and behavioural issues.
The study used the PSC (Pediatric Symptom Checklist) to identify students who required additional assistance with cognitive, emotional and behavioural problems.
It found that those students with inadequate nutrition and energy intake were more than 3 times more likely to be in need of interventions for such problems.
Nutrition and Academic Performance
To determine academic achievement, the study calculated the GPA of every student by subject. GPA being the General Performance Achievement Score. This is calculated by scoring the grades a student receives over the course of time and taking the average of all those scores. The theoretical maximum GPA score is 5.
The below graph shows the average GPA scores for students with adequate nutrient intake versus those without, over a number of subjects.
As can be seen, students with adequate nutrient intake performed better academically across all subjects. Maths was the subject with the biggest difference in GPA score of a staggering 37%, followed by Reading with a significant difference of 27%.
Diet Impacts Maths most
It is interesting to note, that in studies when there have been diet interventions at schools to improve nutritional intake, it has been maths that has been the most positively impacted.
Making the eating of a healthy breakfast a habit, is highly likely to lead to a child having adequate nutritional intake, drastically reducing their probability of having psychosocial problems and significantly increasing their academic performance – especially in maths.
The next blog in this series, which is looking at the relationship between a child’s diet, schools and academic achievement, will be considering the impact obesity has on IQ.