Children are sent to school to learn, but many face a stumbling block before the hands on the clock ever reach 9 a.m. Studies show that as many as 12-26 percent of school-age children leave their homes without eating anything!
“Even children with the means to eat a breakfast at home often don't because their typical morning routine doesn't allow the time,” stated the Health Policy Guide.
Skipping breakfast is believed to negatively affect:
- Cognitive function, including the ability to memorize information
- Mood and behavior
- Test scores
- School attendance
- Overall health, including weight, bone density, energy levels and growth
In a perfect world, children would have parents who model healthy behavior, provide nutritious meals and offer steadfast guidance. In reality, families lack sound information about health and nutrition, struggle with time management, lack food preparation skills and have limited budgets or access to fresh unprocessed food.
In fact, by the time youths reach age 12-19, about one in four skips breakfast, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals.” Here are a few other quick facts from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
- Only 39% of children ages 2-17 meet the USDA’s dietary recommendation for fiber
- About 85% of adolescent females fail to consume enough calcium.
- The number of overweight kids (age 6-11) has gone up 100% in the last 20 years.
- Almost 78% of high school students fail to eat five or more daily servings of fruits and vegetables.
- It's estimated that 33% of American kids born in 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime, according to the CDC.
While a teacher is not a substitute for an on-the-ball parent or a registered dietician, no one can deny a teacher’s power to influence attitude and behavior. Offering lessons on nutrition and gentle reminders may be all it takes to spur discussions within the home and change habits.
Sending reminders in a classroom newsletter might prompt a positive response, too. Include links to some fun and educational online sites such as the “Healthy Fridge” quiz or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ website Smallstep Kids. BrainPOP offers an animated kid’s clip on nutrition, too. It’s free and has additional activities. A trial subscription is available for further exploration of the site. ZisBoomBah.com is another interactive site that helps teach children about planning meals.
Not only does a full tummy enhance a child’s ability to pay attention during class and learn new things, but it also provides fuel for active participation on the playground – something that affects social interaction and well-being in addition to fitness.
Big Universe’s publishing partner, Weekly Reader Publishing, has half a dozen picture books about nutrition for readers in Grade 1 and beyond. Each of these books has a corresponding online quiz. They include:
For further information about breakfast’s link to education, check out the facts and tips in “Breakfast Benefits” on the FamilyEducation.com website or read the suggestions in “Bringing Health and Nutrition into the Classroom” and “Rise, Shine and Dine.”
UPDATE: (Dec. 3, 2010) Big Universe has added a comprehensive nutrition book for kids and their parents titled "YUM: Your Ultimate Manual for Good Nutrition" by Daina Kalnins (Lobster Press).