2002-03-30 / Columnists

Chatting With Chapey by Dr. Geraldine M. Chapey

Chatting With Chapey by Dr. Geraldine M. Chapey

Learn Well, Work Well: The Impact of Nutrition on Learning

At alarming and ever increasing rates, American adults are being diagnosed as obese, diabetics, undernourished and overweight.  Skipping
breakfast is a common practice among these groups.  The cost to business, the workforce and family life in absenteeism and unemployment is enormous. Interest in food, nutrition, health and learning is escalating.  Books like Atkins New Diet Resolution are now on the Best Seller list.

Today, the large number of children arriving at school not ready to learn and flourish and meet the challenge of learning include affluent children as well as those from poor families.

Concerns about nutrition and learning are not new.  One hundred years
ago, when an American named Robert Hunter researched the relationship between hunger and poverty in schools, he was shocked to find large numbers of young people who suffer from hunger and malnourishment and are unable to learn.

During World War II nearly one-third of the young men turned down for military service were rejected due to nutritional deficiencies.  This led to
the passage of the National School Lunch Act in 1946, permanently establishing school lunch as an integral part of the school system.

In the United States today there are twelve million children living in households that suffer from hunger or are at risk of hunger.

Current research in Pediatricians found significant links between hunger and behavior.  In a study of 328 parents and children, data revealed that initially all behavioral, emotional and academic problems were more prevalent in hungry children.

Aggression and anxiety had the strongest degree of association with hunger.  

Tufts University researchers noted that breakfast programs increased the academic performance of children.  Children who eat breakfast have been shown to perform better on standardized achievement tests, are tardy less often, have fewer behavior problems and have more energy to focus their attention on school work.

Developing the habit of eating breakfast regularly starting at preschool, can set a lifetime pattern of good eating leading to a decrease in health and weight problems in adolescence and in adult life.

While a leisurely breakfast at home with conversation and interaction with the whole family is the ideal, the alternative, breakfast at school will help to ensure that all children are prepared to face classroom challenges, thereby improving school performance.

The New York State Education Department is launching a new initiative "Think Breakfast" designed to motivate elementary school children to eat a healthy breakfast every day in order to raise the knowledge, skill and opportunities of our children.

Healthy youngsters and adults will make significant contributions to the economy and our society.


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