Kids who aren’t fed nutritious food at home may have a lower performance in school, a new study suggests.
The researchers looked at how food insecurity, which they describe as the limited access to sufficient safe and nutritious food at home, impacts the learning ability of children in India. The team observed inequalities in learning achievements for kids over a span of 12 years. They then analyzed whether poor diets at home when the kids were 5, 8 and 12 years old were linked to lower test scores when they were 12.
The findings? Insufficient diets at all ages hindered learning. During at least one point over the course of the study’s period, 47 percent of the kids experienced household food insecurity, including skipping meals and eating less if needed. But 18 percent of the wealthiest families in the study also experienced food insecurity, suggesting nutritional diets don’t depend solely on financial aspects.
The data showed lower vocabulary, reading, math, local language (Telugu) and English scores during early adolescence, but the way the diets affected each of the subjects varied at different ages.
Kids who experienced food insecurity at 5 years old had the lowest scores across all subject areas. At 12 years old, early and long-lasting food insecurity appeared to be the most consistent predictor of impaired reading skills and vocabulary development.
For subjects such as reading and vocabulary, establishing foundational skills early on is very important, so food insecurity early in life may disrupt building these early skills. Math, on the other hand, is a subject that requires a person to constantly build upon previous skills. So food insecurity affects the learning ability for math at all points.
The major takeaway here is a poor diet can have a “ripple effect” for a kid's future learning level. Based on their findings of 5-year-olds, they suggest schools offer breakfast and snacks and improve the quality of food distributed to families with preschoolers.
Getting a youngster to eat a well balanced meal isn’t always easy, but it’s crucial for their development. For inspiration, check out a few healthy foods your toddler will actually love.