08/14/2017 Diet and Productivity, Part 1: School Days
Alli Walsh, Social Media Strategist
Diet and Productivity, Part 1: School Days
As parents and caregivers, we want to help our kids do their very best. We want to spark new ideas, inspire creative adventures and ignite their intellectual curiosities. But they won’t get far without the right fuel for their brains and bodies.
In this first of two posts about diet and productivity, we explore a little bit of the science behind eating right—and why it’s so important for growing kids—and how you can help your children make healthy food choices that impact their school success.
Feeding the need to succeed
Thanks to a growing popular interest in family wellness and rising mainstream awareness of issues like child obesity, the topic of children’s nutrition is always in the news. Parents, schools and community organizations are always seeking new insights into “what’s best for kids” and implementing new strategies to ensure students have a healthy, productive school day and go on to develop healthy lifelong eating habits.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at a range of research findings to get a feel for the link between productivity and diet:
- A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research School Lunch Quality and Academic Performance found that in years when a school contracts with a healthy lunch company, students at the school score better on end-of-year academic tests. 1
- 5th grade students who ate more fast food fared worse on math and reading scores. 2
- A healthy eating campaign that banned junk food from schools and introduced healthier, freshly prepared school meals found that participating students scored higher on English and science tests than students who did not take part in the campaign. 2
- Access to nutrition, particularly breakfast, can enhance a student’s psychosocial well-being, reduce aggression and school suspensions and decrease discipline problems; those participating in a school breakfast program had better attendance, improved behavior, improved concentration and better academic performance. 2
- Young adults who ate more fruits and vegetables reported higher average well-being, more intense feelings of curiosity and greater creativity compared with young adults who ate less fruits and vegetables. 3
Why what we eat matters
In Harvard Business Review, Ron Friedman, Ph.D. explains how everything we eat is converted by our body into glucose, which provides the energy our brains need to stay alert. As soon as glucose levels start to dip, we start losing attention. It’s our signal to eat something and bring our energy levels back up. 4
But when it comes to fueling the body for optimal energy and performance, there’s a big difference between a piece of pizza and a whole-wheat turkey wrap. That’s because our bodies process foods at different rates, largely dependent on the glycemic load of the food:
- Foods with a high ranking on the glycemic index (a value of 70 or more), such as white bread and soda pop, are processed more quickly and can leave us feeling a “slump.” Likewise, high fat meals, like that pizza, require our digestive systems to work harder, which reduces oxygen levels in the brain and makes us feel groggy. 4,5
- Foods with a low glycemic index value of 55 or less (like an apple or glass of 1% milk) take longer to digest and give us more sustainable energy. Fruits and vegetables, in particular, fuel our brains with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that aid in the production of neurotransmitters and other chemicals that help us experience motivation, improve memory, and enhance moods. 4,5
Providing productivity-boosting lunches and snacks
School-age children (ages 6 to 12) need healthy foods and nutritious snacks, and they usually eat four to five times a day.6 It’s important for adults to:
- Set good examples for eating habits by demonstrating healthy food choices and serving sizes
- Ask children to help with meal planning, shopping and food preparation
- Serve meals and snacks at a table, free from distractions
- Have good food choices on hand to put in the lunch-box and for smart snacking:
- Vegetables and dip
- Turkey or chicken sandwich
- Cheese and crackers
- Milk and cereal
- Minimize the consumption of “junk food,” especially on school days
1 Anderson, M. L., Gallagher, J., & Ritchie, E. R. (2017, May 03). How the quality of school lunch affects students’ academic performance. Retrieved August 02, 2017, from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2017/05/03/how-the-quality-of-school-lunch-affects-students-academic-performance/.
3 Conner, T. S., Brookie, K. L., Richardson, A. C., & Polak, M. A. (2015, May). On carrots and curiosity: eating fruit and vegetables is associated with greater flourishing in daily life. Retrieved August 02, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25080035.
4 Friedman, R. (2015, December 30). What You Eat Affects Your Productivity. Retrieved August 02, 2017, from https://hbr.org/2014/10/what-you-eat-affects-your-productivity.
5 (n.d.). Retrieved August 02, 2017, from http://www.gisymbol.com/about/glycemic-index/.
6 Default - Stanford Children's Health. (n.d.). Retrieved August 02, 2017, from http://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=school-aged-child-nutrition--90-P02280.
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