Nutrition and Cognitive Learning Term Paper

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[. . .] In an effort to address the problem of low nutritional levels, many students have implemented school breakfast programs, building coalitions to improve the school nutrition and physical activity environment, teaching nutrition curriculum, and adding more physical activity for children, using federal snack program reimbursement as a foundation (ADA, 1995).

Recent research suggests that many aspects of nutrition can have an enormous result on cognitive learning in elementary school children (ADA, 1995). For instance, it has been proven that skipping breakfast can have a negative effect on a children's intellectual performance, and even moderate under nutrition can have permanent effects on cognitive development.

Children who have poor nutritional habits are more likely to have behavioral, emotional, and academic problems than children with good nutritional habits.

Many students who complain of stomachaches and headaches are actually experiencing symptoms of poor nutrition. In 1999, ten percent of all U.S. households, representing 12 million children, were "food insecure" due to a lack of resources (ADA, 1995). Schools with breakfast programs report increases in student attention, class participation, attendance, and academic test scores

Regular physical activity is important for children to build and maintain healthy bones and muscles and reduce fat. However, many elementary school children do not engage in physical activity on a regular basis.

According to recent research, more than a third of young people in grades 9-12 do not regularly engage in vigorous physical activity (ADA, 1995). Only 8% of elementary schools in the U.S. provide daily physical education or it's equivalent for the entire school year.

However, schools that offer intensive physical activity programs report positive effects on academic achievement (Shepard, 1997), although time for physical education is taken from the academic day.

These results include increased concentration; improved mathematics, reading, and writing scores; and reduced disruptive behaviors.

Studies show a huge increase in poor nutritional habits in the United States over the past few decades (ADA, 1995). According to research, twenty years ago, children were drinking twice as much milk as they were soda. As soda consumption doubled, milk consumption decreased by almost half, and now they are drinking twice as much soda as they are milk. Approximately 74% of boys and 65% of girls consume at least one soda per day.

In addition, it has been determined that poor nutritional habits are usually established during childhood. Currently, only 2% of school children meet all the recommendations of the Food Guide Pyramid (USDA) and more than 60% of young people eat too much fat.

Statement of the Problem

Poor nutrition in elementary school children is believed to adversely affect cognitive development, according to existing research. The effect of poor nutrition on elementary school children can be devastating and long-lasting.

It can have negative effects on cognitive development, educability, and mental health, thereby undermining school performance.

Whether or not children are properly fed during their early school years can have a profound effect on their ability to learn, communicate, think analytically, socialize effectively and adapt to different environments and people.

Good nutrition is the first line of defense against many things and had benefit children for life. Children who have good nutritional habits and are well-nourished are more physically fit to perform well in school, maintain a healthy weight and be physically active -- all of which contribute to cognitive learning.

In the area of cognitive development, "when there isn't enough food (or poor nutrition), the body has to make a decision about how to invest the limited foodstuffs available. Survival comes first. Growth comes second. In this nutritional triage, the body seems obliged to rank learning last. Better to be stupid and alive than smart and dead (Sagan and Druyan, 1994).

Poor nutrition is found in children of all socioeconomic conditions. Once believed to be mainly a problem for poor children, today poor nutrition has extended to all social and economic classes, due to the increase in fast food and hands-off parenting styles.

While some evidence hints that nutrition education and school meal programs benefit cognition and behavior to a greater extent among the poorer segment of society, recent evidence reveals that all children would benefit from these programs.

Methodology

The relationship between poor nutrition and cognitive development will be assessed using the following methodology.

The major goal of this study is to identify the links between nutrition and cognitive learning, and develop the best practical approach for increasing nutrition in elementary schools. Primary study objectives include:

To determine the effect that hunger and poor nutrition have on cognitive learning.

To assess the reliability and validity of existing research and recommend areas of improvement.

To identify the effect that nutrition has on mental health and physical fitness, as these things undoubtedly affect cognitive learning.

To develop suggestions for use by elementary schools that will enable them to provide better nutrition for children.

The main portion of the methodology is a study of existing literature and information, which will provide a thorough background on the problem and assist in developing a solution to the issues at hand.

In addition, a sample of four elementary schools will be contacted to participate in the study. Two of the schools will have school meal programs and two will not. The study will collect information regarding the performance of students in both types of schools, to determine if the meal program makes a difference.

The data will be collected through interviews with staff members of the school, preferably those who have played a part in implementing school meal programs or trying to have them implemented.

The staff members will be asked to fill out questionnaires that address many of the key issues of this research projects, including the four main objectives listed above. The goal of this methodology is to determine whether or not elementary schools can increase the cognitive learning abilities of their students by providing them with access to good nutrition.

Results

The existing research shows the need for increased nutritional awareness in schools, as cognitive learning is greatly impacted by the nutritional levels of children (Troccoli, 1993). Nutrition education in school should be identified within a comprehensive health education program and through the use of adequate school meal programs.

By supplying children with meals at school, schools are ensuring that all children have access to good nutrition and are not missing meals. In addition, by implementing school meal programs, schools are providing children with the opportunity to learn more about nutrition.

In order to increase children's access to good nutrition and, subsequently, better cognitive learning abilities, this research paper will examine many methods that schools can use to further nutrition, including:

Providing nutritional education as part of a comprehensive health education program (Troccoli, 1993);

Coordinating nutritional education in the classroom and meals served in the school;

educating students about good nutrition, stressing the impact of nutrition on physical and cognitive development;

Creating educational packets for parents about nutrition and tecahing children about nutrition; and Providing only nutritious foods at school.

Conclusion

The link between nutrition and learning is complex and extensive. According to studies of elementary school children, poor nutrition is correlated closely with poor cognitive development and school performance.

However, these relationships are not fully understood. For example, it is not clear exactly which vitamins and minerals negatively affect a person's ability to learn. Research shows that iron deficiency is linked to below average concentration and memory.

However, this does not mean that increasing particular vitamins and minerals is beneficial. In fact, too much might be harmful. In conclusion, these studies demonstrate the importance of variety, moderation, and balance in nutrition, particularly for children.

The extensive amount of research examining cognition and nutrition in children shows that those who eat well and do not miss meals are more physically and mentally active, contributing to greater cognitive learning abilities.

On the other hand, those who have poor nutritional habits and skip meals have delayed cognition, particularly pertaining to the speed of information retrieval in working memory.

The existing research is very promising and I believe that much of the available literature will adequately answer the questions that my research proposal poses.

However, this research paper will add to the existing literature by getting first-hand opinions of elementary school personnel regarding the actual effects of implementing access to good nutrition on the learning abilities of students.

This paper aims to address and analyze the links between nutrition and cognition, as well as the problems associated with poor nutrition. Finally, this research project will identify several areas in elementary schools that need improvement, and provide suggestions for improvement.

The goals of this research project are to improve health and early cognitive development by providing children with better nutrition, adequate nutritional education and stimulating environments.

It is hoped that the suggestions provided by this paper will ease the transition to elementary school, improve progression through elementary grades, and raise school performance, all of which are expected to increase lifetime achievements.

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