The Learning Connection

Healthy Kids = Better Learners

At the launch of a new school year, it’s good to remember the berries and oatmeal in your child’s breakfast bowl matter—as does the time he or she spends in motion.

Simply put, nutritious eating plus activity equals a healthy lifestyle—AND, they provide your child his or her best chance at academic success. Health and academics are intimately linked. In other words, healthy kids=better learners.

There are no new surprises here—intuition tells us that when you haven’t eaten well, slept enough or gotten adequate exercise, you aren’t going to be able to do your best.

But in recent years, research supporting the importance of good health and healthy habits to academic performance has been mounting.

One of the most vivid examples was a study done at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, during which researchers examined whether moderate physical activity changed brain function in 9- and 10-year-old students. It did. After 20 minutes of activity—similar to a brisk walk—neuro-images of the children’s brains showed brain activity in high gear and this resulted in better and faster test performance in the study.

“Simply put, physical activity will help kids learn better,” said Charles Hillman, Ph.D., associate professor of the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health at University of Illinois. “There’s nothing magical going on. Physical activity causes changes in the brain. As a result, we’re seeing changes in behavior.”

Other studies have shown:

  • Skipping breakfast can impact alertness, attention, memory, problem-solving and math skills.
  • The quality of a child’s diet and whether it includes adequate fruits and vegetables also can affect academic performance.
  • Participation in school breakfast programs has resulted in improved math, reading and vocabulary test scores and less tardiness and absenteeism.
  • Lack of sleep can impact a student’s ability to learn, listen, concentrate and solve problems and it can affect behavior.

The good news is local schools are fully on board with promoting healthy behaviors and creating a healthy environment for students who spend a good part of their young lives in the classroom.

For example, each school has a Healthy School Team in charge of creating healthy activities and programs to help insure students are healthy and ready to learn. They are made up of school staff, administrators, parents and, sometimes students–and they welcome your ideas and participation.

Schools need family support at home, as well. Parents and family members can help by:

  • Modeling healthy behaviors such as eating healthy foods and staying active
  • Making sure children eat a nutritious breakfast before school
  • Packing  healthy snacks and lunches
  • Eating a healthy dinner together
  • Limiting screen time and sugary beverages
  • Making sure everyone gets enough sleep
  • Sending healthy treats to school on birthdays
  • Getting involved in healthy activities at your child’s school

Other tips and more information on the research-supported “Learning Connection” have been produced by the Winter Park Health Foundation (WPHF). The materials also explain the school-based health and wellness services available in the 12 schools serving students in Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville with support from WPHF—including CHILL mental health professionals, nurses, nurse practitioners and Healthy School Teams.

WPHF will distribute the materials to students, parents and school staff throughout September and launch a social media campaign in hopes of increasing awareness of the Learning Connection.

The materials also encourage families to stay connected by signing up for the WPHF weekly, health-themed, e-newsletter. And the school with the largest percentage of parents signing up receives $1,000 for healthy school activities.