Healthier Students are Better Students

Healthier Students are Better Students

Information provided by the American Dairy Council

We’ve learned a lot about neuroscience over the years. For example, we know that the human brain is malleable and changes throughout the lifespan due to environmental and biological factors. We also know that a child’s environment influences how he or she thinks, feels, and responds. So what does neuroscience tell us about the relationship between nutrition, physical activity, and learning? Let’s examine the research.

What You Eat is Important

Trends show that the majority of youth eat less nutrient-rich foods and that one in four children live in a food-insecure household. Research also shows that students that have insufficient food miss more days of school, have poorer class performance and show a decline in academic achievement. 18,15

Another study examined the relationship between diet quality and academic performance. Results showed that students with a lower diet quality performed poorly on academic assessments compared to students with a higher diet quality score. Other studies have shown a positive association between diet quality and depression, anxiety, and hyperactivity. 23, 21, 33

Breakfast is especially important—students that skip breakfast may have a significant immediate decline in cognitive abilities. One study showed that breakfast skippers had poor attention and memory compared to breakfast-eaters. 30, 19, 20

Physical Activity Influences Cognition

Researchers found that when children were moderately to vigorously active for about 75 minutes per week, fitness level and cognitive performance improved. In fact, a study found that even single bouts of exercise can benefit cognitive performance. 40,26

Another study found that students who were more active during the school day and on weekends achieved higher scores on math, reading, and spelling standardized tests. Fitness levels have also been associated with better behavior as rated by parents. 16, 27

Neuroimaging helped researchers determine that the size of certain areas of the brain are positively associated with a child’s fitness level. Areas of the brain that appear to be larger in physically fit children are related to better working memory, inhibition control, and ability to block out unrelated information. 24,25

Want to learn more? Check out for information and resources related to the Learning Connection.

References for this article can be found in the Endnotes section of The Wellness Impact Report.