The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Diet Quality and Academic Performance

Diet Quality and Academic Performance

Health and Wellness

May 25, 2008

Diet Quality and Academic Performance
Children with better diet quality have improved academic performance, according to a recent study conducted as part of the Children’s Lifestyle and School-performance Study in Nova Scotia, Canada and published in Journal of School Health. The study surveyed 5,200 grade 5 students and their parents about dietary intake and found that those with decreased overall diet quality were significantly more likely to perform poorly in school, while those with improved diet quality did better.
The relationship between diet and academic performance has been studied in the past, however, this review is one of a few that have looked at the multidimensional nature of diet as opposed to focusing on just hunger and malnutrition. Researchers examined the impact of consuming fruit, vegetables, grains, dietary fiber, protein, iron, calcium and vitamin C when calculating their results. Diet variety was a contributing factor too.
“In light of the emerging childhood overweight epidemic and contributing poor
dietary habits, the effect of overall diet quality on academic performance is
particularly relevant. This is the first comprehensive study addressing the
relationship between diet and school performance in this context,” says Michelle Florence, MSc, PDt, Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, Canada.
To determine a student’s diet quality, the study formulated a Diet Quality Index (DQI) based on a calculation of the student’s intake of foods from recommended food groups as well as energy and nutrient intakes. Overall DQI scores ranged from 26.0 to 86.0, with higher scores indicating better diet quality. The average score for all students was 62.4 (on a scale from 0 to 100).
Of the 4,589 students that provided complete information of diet quality and school performance, 19.1% failed one or both of the components of the literacy assessment. Students reporting increased diet quality – often characterized by things like increased fruit and vegetable intake and lower caloric intake of fat, among other factors – were significantly less likely to fail the assessment.
Although this study honed in on overall diet quality and the interrelations of nutrition and health, there are a number of factors that contribute to academic performance, including gender, ethnicity, quality of school, child health and socioeconomic factors. Indeed, before adjusting for these factors, boys were twice as likely to fail their literacy assessments than girls. Increased parental income and parental marital status (a two-parent household) were strongly associated with better performance.
Previous studies had examined the relationship between breakfast and cognition, finding that breakfast is effective in improving cognitive function. The current research emphasizes the importance of nutrition not only at breakfast, but also throughout the day. Since academic performance has been shown to influence factors like future educational attainment and income, and therefore future health, it seems clear that increased diet quality can provide benefits beyond school performance and well into later life.
The study suggests that programs that promote healthy eating and physical activity could be extremely beneficial in improving academic performance and overall quality of life – independent from socioeconomic factors. When designing a school-based program, specific aspects of diet quality – like consuming a diverse selection of foods to meet the recommended number of servings from each food group – should also be considered.
“This study justifies investments to teach and practice healthy eating in schools. Our findings highlight the importance of promoting dietary adequacy and variety, increased fruit and vegetable intake and moderate consumption of dietary fat as key nutrition messages for school based programs and policies,” adds Florence.