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The Link between Nutrition, Physical Activity and Academic Achievement. Sigrid Quendler Vienna University, Austria, Europe for ILSI Center for Health Promotion, Atlanta, 2002. Background.

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The Link between Nutrition, Physical Activity and

Academic Achievement

Sigrid Quendler

Vienna University, Austria, Europe

for ILSI Center for Health Promotion, Atlanta, 2002

page 1 of 23



  • Early Greek and Hebrew philosophers adopted a dualistic perspective and viewed the mind and the body as two distinct entities
  • Piaget (1936) was one of the first who suggested that motor development is important for intellectual development in children
  • Kephart (1960) suggested that children who have learning disabilities may be suffering from perceptual-motor problems
  • Kirkendall (1986) suggested, that an individual functions as a whole within the environment and thus must be treated accordingly
  • Jørgens, Perko, Hanel, Schroeder, Secher (1992) confirmed that moderate-to-high intensities of exercise shows a large increase in cerebral blood flow which benefits cognitive functioning

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The Link between Nutrition, PA and AA

  • Breakfast and Academic Achievement (AA)
  • Hunger and Behavioral Problems
  • Undernourishment and Health Risks
  • Lack of PA and Low Self-Esteem
  • Obesity, Health Risks and Low Self-Esteem

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Breakfast and AA

  • 10% of students at the elementary level
  • 25% in middle school
  • 30% of high school students start school without breakfast
  • omitting breakfast interferes with cognition and learning

Hunger and Behavioral Problems

  • 4 million American children experience prolonged periodic food insufficiency and hunger each year
  • Representing 8% of the children under the age of 12
  • Virtually all-behavioral, emotional and academic problems were more prevalent in hungry children

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Undernourishment and Health Risks

  • Chronically undernourished children attain lower scores on standardized achievement tests
  • They have difficulty resisting infection and are more likely to become sick, miss school, and fall behind in class
  • They are irritable and have difficulty concentrating
  • They have low energy, which can limit their PA

Lack of PA and Low Self-Esteem

  • Studies show the positive effects of PA programs on physical fitness and school performance
  • PA is consistently related to higher levels of self-esteem and lower levels of anxiety and stress

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Obesity, Health Risks and Low Self-Esteem

  • The prevalence of overweight among young people ages 6-17 has more than doubled in the past 20 years (in the United States)
  • Over 4.7 million (=11%) of these youths are seriously overweight
  • Overweight causes low self-esteem, which may lead to depression followed by gluttony
  • Increases risks of Type 2 Diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and premature death

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Methods of Literature Search

  • Search Engines:
  • Medline
  • Pubmed
  • Galileo (EBSCOhost, ERIC)
  • Emory University
  • Cross-referencing
  • (Yahoo)


Nutrition, Dietetics

Physical Activity, Education, Sport

Academic Performance, Achievement, Learning

Children, School

Supplementation, Vitamin-Mineral Supplements

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Resources and Approach

Relevant Literature:

  • 12 published research studies about the Link between Nutrition and AA
  • 9 published research studies about the Link between PA and AA

page 8 of 23


Types of Key Studies?

  • 12 Longitudinal Studies
  • 4 Observational Studies
  • 5 Cohort Studies
  • 8 about Nutrition and AA (4 Long-/ 4 Short-Term)
  • 4 about PA and AA (3 Long-/ 1 Short-Term)
  • 1 about Nutrition and AA
  • 3 about PA and AA
  • 3 about Nutrition and AA
  • 2 about PA and AA

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Topics of Studies

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Nutrition and AA

Major and General Findings:

Poor nutrition hampers AA:

  • Malnutritionaffect intelligence and academic performance
  • Students with lowamount of protein in their diet have the lowest achievementscores
  • Iron deficiency anemia leads to shortened attention span, irritability, fatigue, and difficulty with concentration
  • Six- to eleven-year-old children from food-insufficient families had significantly lower arithmeticscores
  • Even moderate under-nutrition can have lasting effects and compromise cognitive developmentand school performance
  • Morning fasting has a negative effect on cognitive performance, even among healthy, well-nourished children

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Proper nutrition enhances academic performance:

Participation in a SBP:

  • Relieves hunger and improves children’s ability to succeed at school
  • Increases intake of food energy, calcium, phosphorous, and vitamin C
  • Improves school performance and reduces absenteeism and tardiness
  • Improves academic, behavioral, and emotional functioning
  • Leads to increased math grades
  • Strengthens children’s psychosocial outcomes, lowering anxiety, hyperactivity, depression and psychosocial dysfunction
  • Raises scores on basic skills tests
  • Parents report improved interest in school, greater concentration, and improved scholastic performance

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The Difference between well-nourished and malnourished children during SBP:

Well-nourished children:

Mal-nourished children:

  • who skipped breakfast experience a negative effect on certain cognitive tests, problem solving and memory
  • demonstrate improved scholastic performance
  • Teachers report improved scholastic performance
  • who skipped breakfast experience a negative effect on certain cognitive tests, arithmetic and verbal fluency
  • The positive effects of breakfast on cognition are not universal and require further studies
  • School environment and lifestyle factors can also enhance a child’s capacity to learn

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PA and AA

The General and Major Findings:

Increased PA leads to higher AA:

  • Increased PA leads to increased test scores
  • Intense PA programs have positive effects on AA, including increased concentration, improved mathematics, reading, and writing test scores and reduced disruptive behavior.
  • AA improves even when the physical education reduces the time for academics
  • Aerobic conditioning may help to improve memory
  • Exercise may strengthen particular areas of the brain, and oxygen intake during exercise may enhance greater connections between neurons

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Improved classroom behavior in schools participating in PA:

  • Teachers report improved students attentiveness and concentration
  • Teachers report improved academic performance
  • Parents report improved interest in school, greater concentration, and improved scholastic performance

Classroom mood and ambience is enhanced when children participate in PA:

  • Teachers report that students participating in PA are calmer in class and more energetic to learn
  • Several review articles authored by experts in the field underscore the value of PA and the effect of activity and cognition
  • School environment and lifestyle factors can also enhance a child’s capacity to learn

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Nutrition and AA

Summary of tables of selected nutrition programs:

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PA and AA

Summary of tables a few selected PA programs:

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Nutrition and PA:

Teachers and parents report that students participating in SBP and PA are:

A positive relationship persists between nutrition and AA or/and PA and AA!!

  • Improve school performance
  • Classroom behavior
  • Reduce absenteeism and tardiness
  • Strengthen children’s psychosocial outcomes
  • Lowers anxiety, hyperactivity, depression, and psychosocial dysfunction
  • Calmer in class
  • More energetic and focused when studying

page 21 of 23


Future Research

  • Effects of micronutrient on development of children’s intelligence
  • Effects of nutrient/micronutrient deficiency on children’s intelligence
  • Effects of nutrient deficiency on children’s intention to be physically active
  • The intimate mechanisms whereby physical exercise can influence academic performance
  • Effects of PA on AA of well-trained and untrained children
  • PA in toddlers and the effects on later AA
  • Differences between (micro)nutrients from supplements vs. food sources in human metabolism

page 22 of 23


I want to return thanks to Debbie Kibbe who took the time to show me the everyday life in a Public Health Organization,

David Dennison who proof-read this project,

Asha Mulchan-Onofri and Kim Fontenot who helped me with the numerous problems I had with the computer,

and everyone else on the ILSI staff who helped to make my internship as fantastic as it was in the end!

Thank You all very much!!

Thank You for Your Attention!!!

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