Obesity and Education…!

24 Feb

“New research published in the International Journal of Obesity reveals that being overweight doesn’t just affect a child’s health. It can also have an impact on their education and ability to learn.”                                                    

                                – Juliette Kellow, Dietitian

In my first blog, I discussed the academic performance benefits of eating breakfast. Now I would like you to consider what benefits perhaps fruit and vegetables can have on our academic performance.

Grossman and Kaesner (1997) stated that ‘education is the most important correlate of adults’ health’. But yet more than a decade later there is little research examining the effect of school education, especially with regards to obesity, on youth health! Obesity rates within the last two decades have rocketed, and telling children what they should and shouldn’t eat most definitely does not work! What children understand about issues related to health and obesity is evolved throughout their school years.

Some of you may have watched the ‘Tonight’ programme last night, which contained information on a whole school intervention produced from Bangor University called the ‘Food Dudes’. This intervention has been very successful in increasing the consumption and liking of raw fruit and vegetables that have previously been refused in primary schools.

You may be wondering why is this relevant but think…

Do you eat your 5-a-day?

You might do now… did you in Primary school… Secondary school?

Unfortunately, children’s education can be directly affected as a result of being obese because of the emotional effects interfering with their learning processes and peer interactions. Children are often bullied in school because of their size and this discourages them from going to stop and also affects their ability to concentrate! And we all know what lack of concentration does to our academic performance!!

Also, some obese children inhibit themselves from reaching their potential because they have low self-esteem and give up far to easily! Academic performance in physical education is the area most affected for an obese person. They are not as able to complete assignments involving exercises that would not normally affected a physically fit student. Type 2 diabetes is linked with obesity, and due to the risks associated with the emotional and mental imbalance, and other side effects of obesity, performance in maths, English and science can also suffer.

In the next few weeks I think I will be focusing more on this area… what are your thoughts? I think schools should be doing more to teach children about food so they understand why such foods like fruit and vegetables are better for them instead of insisting that they eat them! 







8 Responses to “Obesity and Education…!”

  1. psua4e February 24, 2012 at 9:02 pm #

    I agree that a healthy diet is important for education, and it has been shown that effective interventions in nutrition and health have been shown to improve students’ academic performance, this has been shown by schools in Queensland, Australia, where Smart choices – a healthy food and drink supply strategy for Queensland Schools was implemented. Teaching students all about food types, what to look for, and the benefits of a healthy and nutritional diet. Benefits also include increased memory, concentration and attention span by eating ‘Brain foods’ such as Fish.


    • cassharp February 26, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

      During adolescents we are under great academic pressure, therefore maintaining optimal cognitive functioning is important. Although the majority of research into the effects of healthy eating and academic performance has been done on children, there is research demonstrating that micronutrient supplementation in children and adolescents with very poor diets can improve their intelligence scores. In your comment you refer to fish improving memory, well academic achievement has also been positively correlated with frequency of consumption of diary, meats and eggs.

      Think of your time at University, how have you eaten? University is a milestone for us all, and we often feel pressured academically, relationships, environmental factors, time limitations, financial constraints and social responsibility and unfortunately we often fail to establish and maintain healthy eating behaviours. More and more students are turning to ready meals, what is this doing to our academic ability I wonder? If diet does have this huge impact, perhaps a study should be done following students who obtain the recommended nutrients and vitamins etc compared to those who have too much (if there is such a thing) and those who are deprived, wonder how it would effect their degree classification.


  2. elburns February 26, 2012 at 10:11 am #

    When researching into this area, schools that implemented healthy eating programmes, had significant change in behaviour of the course of the case study. However there was not a significant change in knowledge and attitudes to healthy food. In the case study school individuals showed an increase in selecting a healthy snack at break-times, and a greater uptake of school meals. This therefore shows that schools, can actively try and combat obesity in schools. However this study also showed that wider factors in the home and social environment factors counteracted the effects of the school intervention. (Young, 1993).
    This suggests that although schools can introduce significant behavioural changes in school to help decrease the obesity problem, it does not appear to have a global effect. Therefore the validity of obesity education in school is massively decreased.


    • cassharp February 26, 2012 at 1:12 pm #

      In my own dissertation project, children when given the opportunity are very keen to learn about fruit and vegetables and therefore I believe that their knowledge and attitude towards healthy foods does increase. And in the Food Dudes programme, the children change their whole attitude towards healthy eating; the stigma that you’re boring if you have an apple at break time instead of a chocolate bar is removed. As a result of Food Dudes children want to bring in different healthy snakes and try different foods!

      I feel your research from 1993 is slightly out of date for this issue, as the obesity epidemic problem has occurred in the last two decades, meaning the start of the problem occurred when your research was done. The home environment can be an issue with changing children’s eating behaviours, often for financial reasons families can’t afford to buy fresh produce. A study by Townsend et al (2010) referred to the home environment as more of a barrier.


  3. Tom P February 26, 2012 at 6:05 pm #

    Unfortunately, parents buy food. School food programmes, notably ‘Food Dudes’ cost parents nothing as the healthy food is supplied.

    I concede that educational about ‘good’ food will be beneficial for when the individual is buying their own food, but until this point, it is up to the parents discretion. Upon the suggestion that bullying is fundamentally disruptive upon education and learning, there are two implementations which would be more beneficial than solely education about healthy foods:

    1) Parental Intervention (educating parents about healthy foods and increasing their want for healthy foods).

    2) Bullying Intervention (to raise the self esteem of children who are obese).

    Wheeler et al. (2006) discovered that tools of passive education (an educational videotape) changed the attitudes of parents regarding the use of antibiotics for their children. This demonstrates that consistent passive portrayals within society (e.g. advertising) regarding the risk of obesity should passively educate adults to change their behaviour and indirectly, their children’s.

    Merrell, Gueldner, Ross and Isava (2008) provided meta-analytic evidence that bullying interventions enhanced both self-esteem and peer acceptance. They also commented that success was somewhat reliant on teacher’s behaviour and how they responded to the incidences of bullying.

    Conclusively, interventions to change parent’s behaviour to indirectly result in the change of the child would be beneficial. Furthermore bullying interventions are shown to be effective but based somewhat on how the teacher acts. Resultantly teachers need to know how to react and to reliably react to incidences of bullying. As a result, there will be less obese children and those who are obese will have higher self esteem. I do not mean to discount education regarding healthy eating, yet believe it would only be beneficial when the child can support themselves.

    Notably when researching this and searching “adult obesity intervention” on Google Scholar, nearly all journals specifically explored a child-based obesity intervention. It appears that the common mindset is that child obesity leads to adult obesity. Perhaps the reality is that adult obesity leads to child obesity, which leads to adult obesity?

  4. rebeccaamelieknight February 27, 2012 at 4:56 pm #

    As noted in the comments above, it seems that there is a complex interaction between nutritional choices and social, economic, parental and educational factors. Referring to Tom’s comment, it is important to recognise that despite increasing education about nutrition, there are practical barriers outside of school such as socioeconomic factors that make it more difficult for the child to implement what they have learnt in the home. Have it my way, we would put a tax on fat!
    I agree that educating children about nutritional choices and designing interventions for schools is important. Research does seem to suggest that nutritional choices affects cognitive function. For example, clinical research has found an association between vitamin B deficiency and reduced scores on cognitive tests, behavioural problems and personality changes ( Sorhaindo and Feinstein, 2006). When designing interventions for schools, it is interesting to note that adequate levels of glucose throughout the day optimises cognition and fluctuations in glucose levels have shown a decrease in cognitive function, thus encouraging children to eat fruit at break and educating them about when to recognise these drops in glucose levels could be useful ( Sorhaindo and Feinstein, 2006).
    Research conducted by Holloway et al, 2011 found that if you consume a low carbohydrate diet, mood, speed and attention were all significantly reduced after only 5 days on this diet. So whilst it is important to focus on the reduction of weight, education should also focus on educating children to eat the right kinds of food. We also all know about the effects that advertisement has on eating behaviour. Educating children about some of the influences of advertising ,may be beneficial in enhancing positive nutritional choices.

    Sophie’s talk in week 1 highlighted the importance and benefits of healthy parental involvement in children’s education. I therefore think, when possible school’s should encourage parental involvement as part of a health intervention in schools.

    Sorhaindo and Feinstein, 2006 –
    Holloway et al 2011 – http://www.nutrition-communications.com/news_detail.php?news_id=204

  5. Alice Funnell February 28, 2012 at 1:14 am #

    I know there are a lot of money and staffing restrictions, but bring back school dinners!

    From when they began in 1907, school meals had to meet particular nutritional standards. When they were abolished in 1981: kitchens could serve up what they liked provided it made money, children could buy what they liked.

    Here are just a few of my theories:
    -A balanced diet would be provided to all children, and would remove risks of children filling themselves with E numbers and sugary treats before the afternoons lessons
    -Children have the necessary nutrition within their diets that they may not receive at home.
    -All children have the same meal (with dietary restrictions taken into account). This could stomp down on judging from other children and bullying
    -Parents and children are less stressed in the mornings without pack lunch drama, and therefore calmer in school environment

  6. Adam February 29, 2012 at 12:26 am #

    Without being to critical, one of the most likely reason there are a lot of obese kids is because well… there are a lot of obese parents!

    Children take a lot of behavioural cues from their parents. These can range from general social behaviour, eating habits, how they act in class to if they even go in the first place. Targeting an area that probably isn’t the direct cause of the problem could potentially be a waste of resources, maybe it would be prudent and more efficient to target parents.

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