How is it defined?
Nutrition greatly impacts early physical and mental health development (Pérez-Rodrigo & Aranceta, 2001). Proper nourishment and a healthy breakfast contribute to student performance at school (Taras, 2005), while a diet characterized by low nutrient food is negatively associated with academic performance (Burrows et al., 2017). Similarly, skipping breakfast has been shown to adversely impact cognitive performance and is linked to absenteeism (Basch, 2011). Current dietary guidelines recommend a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains (Basch, 2011). Given the role that nutrition plays in student health and academic achievement, greater efforts should be made to promote school-based health initiatives that encourage a healthy diet and lifestyle (Centeio et al., 2021).
The Learning Bar’s framework on Physical Health Outcomes includes measures of nutrition, physical fitness, sleep, risky behaviours (use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and other drugs) and sexual health. Nutrition includes measures of student eating habits in a typical week.
Why is it important?
Childhood obesity is associated with poor academic performance (Wu et al., 2017).
School breakfast programs allow for expanded access to nutritious meals and are positively associated with student achievement (Frisvold, 2015).
Healthy eating habits developed during the school years influence dietary behaviours in adulthood (Craigie et al., 2011).
Early nutrition education promotes lifelong heath practices essential to maintaining one’s long-term health (Pérez-Rodrigo & Aranceta, 2001).
How do we measure it?
In the OurSCHOOL elementary and secondary school surveys, students are asked to indicate how often in a typical week they: (a) eat healthy well-balanced meals, (b) eat sweets, junk food, fast foods or have sugary drinks and (c) eat breakfast. The results are reported as “the percentage of students who are eating healthy well-balanced meals every day or almost every day”, “the percentage of students who are eating sweets, junk food, fast foods, or have sugary drinks every day or almost every day”, and “the percentage of students who eat breakfast every day or almost every day.”
Basch, C. E. (2011). Breakfast and the achievement gap among urban minority youth. Journal of School Health, 81(10), 635-640.
Burrows, T., Goldman, S., Pursey, K., & Lim, R. (2017). Is there an association between dietary intake and academic achievement: A systematic review. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 30(2), 117-140.
Centeio, E. E., Somers, C., Moore, E. W. G., Kulik, N., Garn, A., & McCaughtry, N. (2021). Effects of a comprehensive school health program on elementary student academic achievement. Journal of School Health, 91(3), 239-249.
Craigie, A. M., Lake, A. A., Kelly, S. A., Adamson, A. J., & Mathers, J. C. (2011). Tracking of obesity-related behaviours from childhood to adulthood: A systematic review. Maturitas, 70(3), 266-284.
Frisvold, D. E. (2015). Nutrition and cognitive achievement: An evaluation of the School Breakfast Program. Journal of Public Economics, 124, 91-104.
Pérez-Rodrigo, C., & Aranceta, J. (2001). School-based nutrition education: Lessons learned and new perspectives. Public Health Nutrition, 4(1a), 131-139.
Taras, H. (2005). Nutrition and student performance at school. Journal of School Health, 75(6), 199-213.
Wu, N., Chen, Y., Yang, J., & Li, F. (2017). Childhood obesity and academic performance: The role of working memory. Frontiers in Psychology, 8(611), https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00611