Children’s Diets Influence Their Academic Performance

You are what you eat, and if findings from a study published this month hold up, you learn what you eat too.

In the study, Finnish researchers surveyed 161 children in Grade 1, all between the ages of six and eight. They asked about the children’s diets and measured the children’s academic performance on a variety of measures. Then they watched how the children did in school over the next couple years.

It turned out that what children ate in Grade 1 predicted their academic abilities in Grades 2 and 3. Specifically, children with higher quality diets in Grade 1 scored higher on measures of reading fluency and reading comprehension in Grade 1 and continued to do so over the next two years. On the other hand, students’ diets in Grade 1 didn’t significantly affect their arithmetic abilities in any of the three years.

Analyzing the data, the researchers controlled for things like household income, parental education, exercise, total energy intake and body fat percentage. So none of these appear to be to blame for the link between diet and academic performance.

Rather, the research raises the possibility that diet quality itself may be a factor in how children do in school, which could mean that a healthy diet is a key prerequisite for academic success.

This isn’t the first study to hint at a connection between diet and academic achievement although most of the previous research has concentrated on slightly older children.

A review published this month found some common themes in earlier studies investigating how diet influences children’s academic performance. Three factors that jumped out as especially important were:

  • Eating breakfast
  • Cutting back on junk food
  • Keeping a healthy overall diet with regular meals

The food you give your body is the same food you give your brain, so it makes sense if diet quality is a factor in children’s classroom experiences. More research will be important for figuring out how exactly diet and school performance interact, but for now we can make a pretty good guess that for children to learn well, they have to eat well first.

Image: Machado