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Nutrition and Cognitive Learning Among Elementary School Students -- a Proposal
Many elementary school children are at-risk for poor nutrition. While many children do have good nutritional habits because their families lack money to buy sufficient food, they are not the only group suffering from poor nutrition.
Many children, from all social and economic backgrounds, have enough food yet have diets that are high in fat, sugar, and sodium, resulting in poor nutrition. In addition, as more parents join the workforce, more and more children are solely responsible for their own nutritional habits.
These facts present an enormous risk for elementary school children in the Unites States. In addition to the physical heath issues involved with poor nutrition, research reveals that nutrition affects the cognitive learning abilities of children, as well.
This proposal for a complete research project will concentrate on the link between nutrition and cognitive learning during the elementary school years, as well as the importance of nutrition education for children.
Cognitive learning is the process in which knowledge is acquired. It involves an individual being cognizant of his or her environment and gaining knowledge from that environment. This involves both thinking and problem solving which results in memory formation and learning.
According to Bloom (1956), "cognitive learning is demonstrated by knowledge recall and the intellectual skills: comprehending information, organizing ideas, analyzing and synthesizing data, applying knowledge, choosing among alternatives in problem-solving, and evaluating ideas or actions."
Good nutrition and regular physical activity have been identified as fundamental to the academic success of elementary school children. Research shows that healthy, well-nourished children are more prepared to learn and thus able to take better advantage of educational opportunities.
Good nutrition is an important aspect of successful cognitive learning and achievement by elementary school students. During a child's elementary school years, good nutrition is of critical importance as this is a time of increased mental and physical growth and development.
Recent research on nutrition has stressed the importance of making sure that children get the nutrients they need to grow and learn. As a result of this research,
The Federal Child Nutrition Programs were created as a resource to help meet the nutritional needs of all children.
However, despite its efforts, there has been a trend in the United States toward the "crowding out" of valuable nutrients in the diet in favor of foods high in fat and sugar, and low in nutritional value (ADA, 1995)..
As a result, according to the American Public Health Association, the amount of children who are overweight in the U.S. has tripled since 1980. Ironically, fatty and sugary foods are often more affordable and accessible than more nutritious foods, including milk, fruits and vegetables.
In addition, according to the Center on Hunger, Poverty, and Nutrition Policy's research, numerous studies have linked poor nutrition with long-lasting effects on children's cognitive development and school performance (ADA, 1990).
Additional research has revealed that students who ate breakfast at school had increased standardized achievement test scores and class participation, improved attendance and reduced tardiness.
Another study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services revealed that students who eat breakfast have better academic, behavioral and emotional functioning (ADA, 1995).
This research paper will reveal how good nutrition can affect cognitive learning, as well as improve problem-solving skills, test scores and school attendance rates, in elementary school children.
It will also reveal important information that will suggest a variety of ways to improve nutrition and cognitive learning, such as school nutritional programs, nutrition education and increased physical activity.
This research paper will further examine the important role of nutrition on cognitive learning in elementary school students by determining whether students who are exposed to health-promoting school meals, education and environments have better learning skills.
The effects of hunger and poor nutrition have been proven to have a negative impact on cognitive ability. A recent study showed that among fourth grade students, those with the protein intake in their diets showed the lowest achievement scores (ERIC Digest, 1994, ASFSA, 1989).
For example, iron deficiency is one of the biggest nutritional problems of elementary school children in the U.S., and has been identified as a major obstacle to cognitive learning, as it causes shortened attention span, irritability, fatigue, and difficulty with concentration.
As a result, anemic children have problems with vocabulary, reading, and other tests (ERIC Digest, 1994, Parker, 1989).
Another study involving healthy, well-nourished school-aged children showed that skipping breakfast in the morning had a negative effect on cognitive performance. "A test of the speed and accuracy of response on problem-solving tasks given to children who did or did not eat breakfast found that skipping breakfast had an adverse influence on their performance on the tests (ERIC Digest, 1994, Pollitt et al., 1991)."
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), between 1984 and 1991, there was a 42% increase in the number of children between three and 17 years of age who were overweight (U.S. DHHS, 1992-93). In addition, about 40% of children reported eating breakfast fewer than three times per week.
The rise in poor nutrition among American children is partly due to increased poverty. A survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors revealed that requests for emergency food assistance from families with children increased by 14% from 1991 to 1992 (ERIC Digest, 1994, Waxman, 1992).
Additional studies showed that children in families who reported hunger were more likely to suffer from infections, have trouble concentrating, and miss school than children who had enough food to eat (ERIC Digest, 1994, Wehler et al., 1991).
As more and more parents are working and fast food is increasing in popularity, there is an increase in the proportion of children who eat meals away from home. A recent study revealed that "children in urban areas obtain more than half their calories outside the home (ERIC Digest, 1994, Citizen's, 1990)."
Unfortunately, while fast food restaurants offer inexpensive, convenient meals, they are usually high in fat and low in nutritional value.
Children get most of their knowledge about food and nutrition from television and food packaging. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit nutrition advocacy organization, revealed that nine of ten food commercials on Saturday morning television advertised foods high in sugar, salt, or fat.
Children also get their nutritional education from observations at school and at home. A recent study showed that many children were better able to describe the food their parents ate than parents were able to describe what their children ate (ERIC Digest, 1994, Hellmich, 1992).
In addition, children who have poor nutritional habits find it harder to fight infection, resulting in a higher probability of getting sick, missing school, and falling behind in class (ADA, 1995).
In the past few decades, poor nutrition among children has become a major problem in the United States for many reasons, including poor eating habits, which include overeating and skipping meals.
According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), the Society for Nutrition Education, and the American School Food Service Association, it is important that comprehensive school-based nutrition programs and services be provided to all elementary school students.
These programs and services include: effective education in foods and nutrition; a school environment that provides opportunity and reinforcement for healthful eating and physical activity; involvement of parents and the community; and screening, counseling, and referral for nutrition problems as part of school health services (ADA, 1995)."
According to Green and Kreuter (p. 11), health officials and school personnel have different mandates and priorities (ADA, 1995). While health officials focus on promoting health and preventing disease, school personnel focus mainly on the educational achievement of students.
For school personnel, the strongest justification for nutrition programs and services in schools is the effect on students' cognitive performance and their educational achievement.
1994 report (p. 12) reveals that there are many important links between nutrition and cognitive development of students. 'Effects of nutrition intervention on children's cognitive performance and health status provide a compelling argument for universal nutrition programs and services in schools (p. 11,12)."
According to Parcel: "Classroom instruction can emphasize cognitive, affective and skill outcomes, but children cannot practice what they learn if offered only high-fat, high-sodium foods and low-intensity physical activity at school. The school environment should enable and reinforce healthful behavior" (p 151).
Because of poor nutritional habits, many children do not participate in enough physical activity, despite the fact that physical activity among adolescents has long been proven to be a major cause of higher levels of self-esteem and lower levels of anxiety and stress.
In addition, physical activity promotes the mental and emotional development of youth, which results in a greater capacity for learning (ADA, 1995). Still, in the U.S., activity levels are at an all-time low-- currently only 6% of middle and high schools provide daily physical education or an adequate equivalent.
As a result, many elementary school children have an array of problems, including obesity, low activity…[continue]
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