Students Who Eat Well Do Better at School: Academic Success and Nutrition

Two recent research reports solidify the evidence connecting eating well with academic success.

Two new research studies add to the evidence connecting eating well with doing well in school.

On the Canadian front, Alberta researchers gathered data from nearly 1600 grade 5 students from their province.1 They asked the grade 5 students about the foods they eat and certain eating behaviours, such as whether they eat breakfast, or eat in front of TV. They analyzed the diets in terms of Canadian and international recommendations for food group intake, sugar intake and saturated fat intake. The data were compared with the standardized provincial achievement test scores.

The results?

As reported in the September 2017 issue of Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research, boys who met recommendations for getting enough Milk & Alternatives and for limiting the sugar in their diets had better test scores on the standardized provincial exams. There were no significant correlations with other aspects of healthy eating. While scores for girls also improved, the effects were not statistically significant. The researchers speculate that this is because girls do better on exams than boys, so there is less room for improvement. The researchers delved into the result for milk and alternatives a bit more. Noting that previous research shows drinking milk displaces drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, they found that this seemed to hold true too for the Alberta children in this study: drinking milk was associated with drinking fewer sugar-sweetened beverages.

On the US front, researchers at the Center for Disease Control also released data in September 2017 correlating academic achievement and nutrition.2 The CDC study examined a nationally representative sample of over 15,600 students in grades 9–12. Students were asked about numerous health behaviours. Academic achievement was determined by asking students about their grades. The study found that students who reported getting mostly A’s were also more likely to

  • Eat breakfast on all 7 days.
  • Eat fruit, eat vegetables, and drink 100% fruit juice one or more times per day.
  • Drink one or more glasses per day of milk.
  • Not drink a can, bottle, or glass of soda or pop.

The researchers note that in addition to the positive associations with eating well, physical activity was also associated with higher letter grades.

These studies add to the growing body of evidence that indicates promoting good nutrition is a worthwhile investment for schools.

  1. Faught EL, Montemurro G, Storey KE, Veugelers PJ. 2017. Adherence to Dietary Recommendations Supports Canadian Children’s Academic Achievement. Can J Diet Pract Res 78(3): 102-108. https://doi.org/10.3148/cjdpr-2017-008
  2. Rasberry CN, Tiu GF, Kann L, McManus T, Michael SL, Merlo CL, Lee SM, Bohm MK, Annor F, Ethier KA 2017. Health-Related Behaviors and Academic Achievement Among High School Students—United States, 2015. CDC Weekly 66(35): 921–927. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6635a1.htm?s_cid=mm6635a1_w

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