EVERY child has the potential to do well in school. While parents and education stakeholders alike have often cited anecdotal evidence about food and academic performance, research indicates that these beliefs count as more than just old wives’ tales.
Good eating habits not only promote physical well-being but academic health as well. Failing to provide good nutrition puts the children at risk of missing out on meeting those God-given potentials to do well in school. Apart from good nutrition, there are other pre-requisites for learning that, if not met, can hinder children’s abilities to benefit from schooling.
Such pre-requisites are: preventing and treating illnesses, ensuring adequate time for sleep, exercise, playful recreation. Among these requirements for academic excellence, good nutrition seems to be at the top of the list.
Malnutrition, which is the opposite of good nutrition, is a condition that has far-reaching consequences beyond one’s academic cycle. Adults that skip meals on purpose still usually have access to good nutrition. For them, it becomes a matter of improving their eating habits. However, for school aged children, it is not so simple.
Mrs Cecilia Ononenyi, a dietician, said: “Malnutrition is a major problem across the world, both in developed and developing countries coupled with deficiencies in some nutrients which have been reported to cause diseases that lead to impaired cognitive development.
Nutritional status can directly affect mental capacity among school-aged children. For example, iron deficiency, even in early stages, can decrease dopamine transmission, thus negatively impacting cognition.
Deficiencies in other vitamins and minerals, specifically thiamine, vitamin E, vitamin B, iodine, and zinc, are shown to inhibit cognitive abilities and mental concentration. Additionally, amino acid and carbohydrate supplementation can improve perception, intuition, and reasoning. Improvements in nutrient intake can influence the cognitive ability and intelligence levels of school-aged children.
Good nutrition helps students show up at school prepared to learn. Because improvements in nutrition make students healthier, students are likely to have fewer absences and attend class more frequently.
Studies show that malnutrition leads to behaviour problems, and that sugar has a negative impact on child behaviour. However, these effects can be counteracted when children consume a balanced diet that includes protein, fat, complex carbohydrates, vegetables, fruits and fiber.
Thus students will have more time in class, and students will have fewer interruptions in learning over the course of the school year. Additionally, students’ behaviour may improve and cause fewer disruptions in the classroom, creating a better learning environment for each student in the class.”
Also, Mrs Patience Aniedobe, a primary school teacher said: “Parents who want to give their children’s academic performance an additional edge should consider improving on their nutrition. Food as a requirement for academic success is even more pronounced for children from low-income backgrounds.
This, I have noticed over the years as a teacher. Most of these children, often younger, deal with excessive hunger, of which its persistence leads to lack of concentration in class, fatigue, constant sleep, absenteeism due to ill-health, and later on mental health issues.
Lack of good nutrition can even affect a child’s self-esteem. However, taking action today to provide healthier food choices for school-aged children can help to set them up for a successful future full of possibilities.”
Again, Mrs Chinelo Odoh, an early morning food vendor has this to say: “This issue of improper nutrition is not true for children from low income background. It is also seen in children from wealthy homes.
These days, most mothers hardly prepare their children’s meals at home. Every morning, while going to drop off their children in their different schools, they queue up in our food stand with the children’s food flask to buy rice and stew, and sometimes, they include little beans.
Again, most of these children do not eat any form of breakfast at home, so they depend on these roadside foods every day.
To make matters worse, most of these parents while going home late in the evening, they also queue up again to buy same food as evening meal for their different families. Tell me how families who depend on roadside food vendors for their daily food balance their meals?
We prepare these foods to make gains, so one cannot expect much nutrition from road side foods. Therefore, if balanced meals are a requirement for academic excellence, then, many families are getting it wrong.”
Miss Adaobi Ichelle, a J.S.S student said: “When we were thought of balanced diet in school, I noticed that most of our meals are starchy foods. I went home and told her about it, and she said that balanced meals are for rich people; as such her income is too low for adequate dieting. Sometimes, in the morning, my siblings and i eat ‘eba’ and soup or anything that my mother can afford, and this makes us sleep often times during classes”.
But Mrs Roseline Ojukwu, a petty trader in Eke Isu, (Isu is a town in Awka North Local Government Area) has a different opinion about good nutrition being a pre-requisite for academic excellence. Hear her; “it will be wrong for us to be talking about good nutrition without first of all talking about economic condition of our country.
Balanced meals are very necessary for the all-round growth of the children, but can anyone get good nutrition without good money. Food is supposed to be the cheapest commodity in a country, but in Nigeria, the reverse is the case.
With my little knowledge of a balanced meal, it should comprise of appetizer, the main dish and then dessert. Appetizers for instance are more of fruits and we all know the costs of these fruits. Now, a family of say six will spend around N1000 on fruits just for one meal, the main dish and dessert are not included. How many families can afford this amount of money just for a meal?
In a situation where we are expected to have three square meals per day, all balanced, what becomes the fate of low income earners?
We all know very well that even the elites find it difficult. As for me, I try as much as I can to feed my children with what I have, making sure they don’t skip any meal, but as for balancing the meals, I can’t kill myself”.