The Effects of Diet on Learning and Behavior

In an educational world filled with loads of work and stressed students, educators across the United States have tried to find ways to increase test scores and create an environment where students can learn in the best way possible. Perhaps we should look at the food that students are eating each day as they struggle through a day of learning. Students wonder if its sleep or them just having a lack of drive that day. They rarely think about nutrition. Studies have made a connection between many proteins, vitamins, and food substances and their effect on learning and behavior in school. Schools have the potential to play a pivotal role in providing nutritional breakfasts and lunches to sustain students’ learning abilities and social behaviors. 

A dietary regulation that most schools don’t follow is the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). This regulation states that meals must provide one-third amount of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium, and calories. It also says that more than 30% of each meal’s calories should be from proteins, vegetables and fruits and 10% of the calories should come from saturated fat. Current regulations state that each meal should have: One to Two Ounces of Meat/ Meat Alternative daily, 10-14 servings of grain, One-half cup of fruit, one and a half cups of vegetables and 8 ounces of milk. In 2003, a test was conducted and the results showed that teens who have diets lacking in fruits, vegetables, and healthy proteins tend to have lower test scores than their peers, and hunger can lead to children missing school or having to repeat grades. When children have access to adequate nutrition and healthy food options, there is an overall increase in academic performance, but especially in math and reading. One way the Holderness kitchen could help make sure students are getting the proper nutrients would be to always have grilled chicken and a green vegetable available at every meal. 


Further research shows that nutrition can affect behavior as well. A study done by Gomez-Pinilla, a UCLA professor of neurosurgery and physiological science, found that diet, nutrition, exercise, and sleep have the potential to alter brain health and mental function. His research shows that Omega-3 fatty acids (which are needed for normal brain function) — such as those found in salmon, kiwi, walnuts — provide many benefits in improving memory and learning. Whereas foods with a deficit of Omega-3 fatty acids such as chicken fingers, fries, chicken nuggets, etc. lead to an increased risk of attention deficit disorder and fatigue. From his study, children who consume a higher amount of Omega 3 fatty acids are able to focus more and have fewer behavior problems.


The second issue plaguing American classrooms is students walking around with iron deficiency. This changes students’ behavior and cognitive performance. The objective of a study done in 2001 was to evaluate iron deficiency and 16-year-olds’ social skills. The social skills were assessed by the teacher using an online questionnaire. The students took the questionnaire at the beginning of the year when their bodies were still used to their household diet. At the end of the year, the behavior of the students drastically changed. They started to become less focused and more kids acted out in class.


Since healthier and better quality food is more expensive, most schools won’t put the necessary money into their food program. Holderness offers many nutritious meals, but if we changed what was served at each meal, would student behavior and academic performance improve?