The Edmond Sun

August 17, 2013

Expert: Healthy eating, physical activity help students achieve

Patty Miller
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — Parents who want to see their children start the day on a positive note need to make sure they have a healthy breakfast at home or sign them up for breakfast at school, experts say.

“Studies show only 38 percent of all teens eat breakfast every day,” said Susan Allen with Dairy Max, “and only 25 percent of high school students are active for the recommended 60 minutes each day. Research shows healthy eating and physical activity improves academic performance.”

Allen added students who eat breakfast have better attention and memory and after 20 minutes of physical activity brain activity increases.

“New research from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing has found that children who regularly have breakfast on a near-daily basis had significantly higher full scale, verbal and performance IQ test scores,” Allen said.

Childhood is an critical period in which dietary and lifestyle patterns are initiated, and these habits can have an important immediate and long-term implications, said author Jianghong Liu, associate professor at Penn Nursing. “Breakfast habits appear to be no exception, and irregular breakfast eating has already been associated with a number of unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, frequent alcohol use and infrequent exercise.”

In July enhanced national meal guidelines went into effect to increase the amount of fruit and whole grains available for breakfasts served in school cafeterias. The revised standards went into affect when the U.S. Department of Agriculture along with local school districts revamped policies as part of a broader overhaul of cafeteria offerings that began during the 2012-13 academic year.

“Dairy Max is working with schools to provide grant funds for a program called, ‘Breakfast in the Classroom,’” Allen said. “Students eat breakfast in their classroom while the teacher takes roll during what is called Room Service. Research shows this increases test scores. The closer the test taking is to breakfast the higher the scores. Breakfast decreases trips to the school nurse, decreases tardies and absences and provides a socialization time for the children as they eat together.”

Dairy Max also provides grants for “Fuel up to Play 60 minutes a Day.”

“The more students that are eligible and eating breakfast at school, the more money is provided for free and reduced meals through government programs,” Allen said.

She added Edmond has been ahead of the curve and the leader in child nutrition in the states.

There is also grant money provided for cafeteria re-styles.

“We are wanting to put excitement into eating,” Allen said, “and PTOs, parents, teachers and administrators are all working together to make eating healthy work.”

Allen said nutrient rich foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean meats and milk feed children’s as well as adults’ brains and body better.

Think about changing up breakfast to include veggies as well as fruits, she said.

“Make smoothies by putting the ingredients in the night before or serve pizza made with a whole grain crust and lowfat cheese,” Allen said, “or try a waffle with peanut butter and bananas.”

Along with eating healthy children need to move.

“Children need to move because energy goes where it needs to go,” Allen said. “And as parents we need to serve as role models and get outside with our children.”

Students spend about 2,000 hours in school each year.

“This is the perfect place to focus on healthy eating and activity, even if the activity break is only for 2 minutes at a time,” Allen said.