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Does what our children eat affect their learning attainment and achievement? And if yes how serious is the effect? Those serious questions have been matters of concern among parents, educators, and health professionals. Prior studies provided evidences on the strong relationship between nutrition and education progress. This research paper is intended to highlight and consolidate the various factors that implicate learning. Also, it illustrates the negative effects of imbalanced diets on children’s health and academic future. This research suggests the serious relationship between prenatal mother’s eating habits, breast feeding, anemia, mineral deficiencies, socioeconomic status, malnutrition and obesity from one side and the children’s learning outcomes in the other side.
Numerous serious educational issues are addressed in this paper. Including, but not limited to, attention span problems, information processing impairment, information retention issues, cognitive growth complications, and working memory impairment conditions.
Eating habits affect equally the children’s physical and mental growth. Therefore, introducing balanced meals to children, especially breakfast, is recommended to ensure healthy growth.
Cognitive development, represented in thinking and learning abilities, is implicated notably by the interaction between nutrition, hereditary genes and the surrounding environment. All these components/factors combined implicate the cognitive growth of children. The role of nutrition in children physical and mental development starts during the early years of their life. Many studies have focused on the relationship between nutrition and children’s mental and physical health. Behavior also is implicated by the quality and quantity of nutrients the child receives. “The role of health and nutrition in promoting child development and educational outcomes is increasingly being recognized”(Bundy, 1997; Bundy & Guyatt, 1996).
Research findings tie the mother’s nutrition during pregnancy to the children’s brain health and development after birth and during the first two years of life. The children’s cognitive development starts before birth. Furthermore, some researchers suggested that breast feeding augments healthy cognitive development and higher IQ levels.
Breakfast is the most important meal especially for preschoolers. Any nutritional disorder, especially during the early stages of life, can lead to serious mental and cognitive issues. Malnutrition and obesity, both, disturb the mental and physical development of children equally. Proper nutrition has always been linked to progressive cognitive development.
Malnutrition can results from administrating unbalanced meals or can be secondary to certain medical conditions. Malnutrition leads to deficiency in some essential minerals and other elements. Iron and zinc depots are always depleted by malnutrition. Therefore, malnourished children are always susceptible to recurrent infections which impede their school attendance and thus their learning progress. Moreover, it affects the children’s behavior and social interaction with others.
If under-nutrition was evaluated as a negative health risk, overfeeding is viewed as health jeopardy as well. Overfeeding leads to obesity which interferes with the children’s various aspects of growth. Parents should promote healthy eating habits among their children to enhance their mental as well physical growth.
The core of literature on child nutrition and its projecting implications on school performance are addressed in five major areas: (1) nutrition during pregnancy and its prenatal effects on fetuses (2) socioeconomic and medically-induced food insufficiency and malnutrition, (3) essential elements deficiency such as Iron and zinc, (4) effect of eating breakfast, and (5) obesity and its health and educational implications. Extensive research work suggested that “chronic hunger, iron deficiency, and poor breakfast patterns are frequently interrelated” (Taras, 2005, p 199).
Pregnancy is a crucial phase of development. Improper nutrition during pregnancy affects the newborns more than their mothers. Imbalanced supply of certain nutrients during pregnancy leads to serious fetal developmental or congenital malformations. For instance insufficient dietary folic acid or B9 during pregnancy results in motor disabilities and cognitive impairment in offspring. “Vitamin B9 is essential in the proper functioning of brain as well central and peripheral nervous systems”. “Lower levels of B9 have been connected to chronic depression and other mental disorders, as well as in birth defects that affect the neural tube cells” (NutritionalSupplementsCenter.com, 2005).
Those fore-mentioned serious health defects are found to forgo schooling and engaged in activities besides learning at schools. Moreover, interrupted sleep is one of symptoms of folic acid deficiency. Interrupted sleep is one of the major issues that negatively implicate children’s learning. Interrupted sleep lowers their attention, retention and concentration levels. Therefore, it can be concluded that lower levels of Folic acid insult the children learning process directly. Whether in the form of interrupted sleep issues or manifest itself as mental retardation and/or emotional instability.
In the postnatal life, it was suggested that breast feeding is interrelated to IQ levels. Studies in this regard involved more than 3,000 breast-fed infants in New Zealand and England. This study revealed that breast feeding is responsible for increasing the average IQ with around 7 points. However, the same studies indicated that this IQ spurt can only take place under certain hereditary conditions. Breast-fed infants who carry special gene called FADS2 have great chances to have higher IQ than their counterparts who don’t have it.
Studies suggest that IQ scores are somehow correlated to school performance. Students with above average IQ typically do well in school especially in achievement tests. However, their scores might not be conclusively attributed to their intelligence. Certainly, intelligence does play a significant part in school achievement, but many other factors are also involved. Motivation, quality of education and family socioeconomic status; are all among the other factor involved in elevating the IQ.
Conversely, some research studies pointed that for some reason some students don’t perform well in the classroom although they have high IQ scores. Meanwhile, other students achieve at higher levels than it would anticipated from their IQ scores alone (J. E. Davidson, 2003; p. 155-156).
Balanced healthy meals in the early childhood, especially in the first two years of life, are required to meet their accelerated mental and physical growth development. Therefore, it is their adult partner responsibility to provide them with a variety of nutritional diet array after the age of two. Nutritional meals should include whole grain, dairy products, protein, vegetables and fruit. Excessive intake of carbohydrates, salt and saturated fat should be avoided as possible. Whole grain is an important source of minerals and fibers. Mineral and fibers are essential for healthy growth and development.
Healthy balanced diets help developing healthy strong children both physically and behaviorally. Nutritionally rich diets notably improve the children’s attitude. As children grow their share of healthy nutrition should proportionally increase to meet the growth spurt they experience. Their diet should include all the elements that support their physical growth. That includes plenty of Calcium for stronger bones and teeth as well vitamin C. raising healthy children in the early childhood guarantees successful learners in the adulthood. Sound body sound mind has proven to be true.
Let alone balanced healthy meals help children establish positive relationships with their counterparts and peers; it affects their readiness to school. “Poor nutrition may have knock-on effects for their educational achievement and attainment” (Jukes, 2006. P14). Negative effects of malnutrition, for the most part, on brain development are manifested as cognitive impairments and/or emotional issues that last throughout their education time. Physically febrile students are subjected, more than others, to frequent sickness attacks. Therefore, they don’t attend school regularly and miss more school days than average. Consequently, they miss, in total, long periods of learning.
Socioeconomic status as well the general health condition can lead to malnutrition. Regarding the socioeconomic status, information provided by research about the extent of learning disabilities in low-income communities is still not enough. However, “research evidence suggests that a significant number of children are affected” (Jukes, 2006. P16). For example, studies have found prevalence of serious mental retardation ranging from 5 children per 1000 in Bangladesh, to 17 per 1,000 in Jamaica, 19 per 1,000 in Pakistan (Durkin, 2002). Worth noting, mental retardation is one of the serious developmental cognitive disorders that affect the early childhood. Children with mental retardation have lower to slim chances to enroll in the regular educational system. What seriously hinders their enrollment is their deteriorated mental health condition and/or the parent’s schooling decision.
Socioeconomic status is not the only contributor to malnutrition. Some medical issues impair the absorption of certain essential elements such as Iron and Zinc. Whether Iron and/or zinc deficiencies were medically-induced or due to other etiologies, they lead to major chronic and sometimes fatal complications.
Anemia is one of the most commonly wide spread malnutrition disorders. It affects mostly children and young adults. Studies on anemic children indicated that anemic children showed delayed responses than non-anemic Iron-replete children. The research findings reveled that children with iron deficiency respond after repeating orders or stimuli at least twice. However, there was no difference in the IQ level between anemic and non-anemic children.
Iron deficiency anemic children were neither able to categorize information nor able to solve problems quickly. They displayed delay in their ability to solve problems than their iron-replete counterparts. All these complications were found to be attributed to iron deficiency. Iron constitutes major element in the CNS composition. Moreover, studies revealed that anemic children suffer from impaired vision. Impaired vision affects the learning process of visual learners. When iron was administrated into the anemic children’s regular meals they showed improvement in their academic performance, attitude and general health conditions.
Zinc is an example of another essential element needed for children and adolescents healthy growth. Zinc is very essential for working memory. Research work disclosed that malnourished children suffer from severe information retention issues. Furthermore, they showed inability to focus their attention normally in any given task. Accordingly, they experienced severe learning impairment and performed poorly at school. Researchers concluded that zinc-related learning impairment was mainly due to their inferior attention span than normal children.
Breakfast is not only the most important meal that feeds body with most energy but also it contributes to most nutrients adequacy. “Breakfast consumers are more likely to have better overall diet quality and micronutrient and macronutrient and fiber intakes that more often align with current dietary recommendations” (US dept. of Health, 2005). Studies revealed that breakfast skippers are more susceptible to obesity. Moreover, they are less likely to be engaged in any physical activities. Several studies support the benefits of breakfast intake. Research findings revealed that constant intake of breakfast meal enhances the child’s cognitive functions; academic performance; academic achievement; school attendance rates; psychosocial condition; and mood. “Breakfast consumption could impact cognitive performance by alleviating hunger the prevalence of which is well documented and has been associated with emotional, behavioral, and academic problems in children and adolescents” (Rampersaud, G.; Pereira M.; Girard, B.; Adams, j.; Metzl, J.; 2005). Studies revealed that socioeconomic status as well breakfast composition, are among the factors that interfere or augment the magnitude of academic performance. There is extensive proof that daily breakfast intake affect greatly the health condition of children and adolescents.
Healthy breakfast should include variety of food groups. Studies indicated that breakfast skippers show low performance compare to others. Decreased attention and other memory related issues were also reported among breakfast skippers. Attention and retention impairment were also reported. Weight gain and its physiological and academic complications are among the health hazards associated with skipping breakfast.
Overweight is another crucial factor which impacts the learning process equally to malnutrition. Researchers have studied the relative relationship between birth weight and weight gain during the first two years of life for learning outcomes. The study findings suggested strong relationship between learning expectations and weight gain. Abnormal weight gain increases the risk of failing at least one grade in school. Moreover, further studies indicated that child oversize causes impaired cognitive development and poor academic achievement. Researchers attributed poor academic achievement in obese children to the lack of self-confidence and motivation. Psychological burden associated with obesity is another main factor that implicates the overweight children academia.
Children’s performance in school is impacted by many etiological factors. Children are expected to perform well in school until some interfering factors disturb their progress. Prenatal nutrition can affect the child’s adult life either positively or negatively. Improper nutrition during pregnancy can lead to both serious developmental and congenital defects. These defects are responsible for cognitive and physical growth delay or cessation in severe cases. Children with such defects are expected to perform very poorly in school. In the same time, they are not expected to achieve what they suppose to attain in their corresponding age time frame.
Breast feeding was suggested to positively alter the children’s IQ levels. However, studies showed that it does affect it only if the favorable hereditary variable was present. FADS2 is the genetic variable that helps absorb fat in the mother’s milk and provide the brain with all the fat needed for healthier growth. Thus, breastfeeding does elevate the children’s IQ by 7 points only in the presence of FADS2 gene.
Socioeconomic status interferes with providing healthy comprehensive meals. Therefore, children from low socioeconomic classes are more susceptible to malnutrition disorders. Malnutrition and imbalanced meals can lead to behavioral disorders, memory impairment, delayed cognitive response and emotional disorders.
Anemia can also develop as a secondary complication to certain health/medical issues. Whether Anemia was due to malnourishment or secondary to medical issues, it depreciates the academic performance and impairs the children’s progress in school. Moreover, it interferes with their ability to comprehend, process, and retain any introduced knowledge.
Iron and zinc are major elements for healthy brain growth and properly functioning working memory. Children with zinc and iron deficiencies showed remarkably delayed responses to any given instruction, behavioral abnormalities and disturbed working memory. Furthermore, they suffered from sleeping disorders which aggravated their academic status. Visual disorders were reported among anemic children. Visual disorders negatively impact visual learners.
Breakfast intake is the most important meal of the day, especially for children. Breakfast is important for the children’s daily performance and behavior at school. Studies revealed that breakfast skippers are more susceptible to obesity when they grow up. Skipping breakfast alters the glucose supply to the brain and put it into the energy saving mode. Consequently, this conservative mode disturbs the memory and the ability to stay focused.
Overweight is another burden that traumatizes the children’s academic achievement. Due to the psychological inferiority which obese people experience, they suffer from lack of self-confidence. Low self-esteem, lack of motivation and inability to participate in various activities create unfavorable learning conditions. These conditions, by turn, hinder their academic progress and schooling outcomes. Abnormal weight gain increases the risk of failing at least one grade in school.
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