Parents, Teachers Unaware of Mental Benefits of Good Childhood Nutrition

Posted 03/16/2016 | By HealthCorps

It seems intuitive and really basic – the specific foods you choose impact how you feel and perform. A new study suggests that parents and teachers may not fully grasp the importance of diet when it comes to kid’s brain development. This, despite the fact, that they may recognize how nutrition impacts physical performance. The new research suggests that diet quality is crucial to brain development and concludes that parents and teachers need to know this. The study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, was part of an EU-funded NUTRIMENTHE project, involving 20 researchers and nine countries.

Childhood obesity and the role of public health

Alarming rates of childhood obesity are not just a worry in the U.S. Other countries are also struggling with rising rates of child and teen obesity. Parents and teachers are beginning to understand the value of a healthy diet and its impact on weight. However, public health messages don’t often discuss the implications of a healthy diet and mental development or even physical performance. Since parents influence all child behaviors, and teachers play a secondary but very important influence during school hours, the researchers were interested in parents and teachers’ knowledge on how nutrition links to mental and physical developmental milestones. The scientists did note that earlier studies suggest that parents and teachers value sleep and physical activity as “the most important factors” affecting mental development and physical performance.

The study

About 2000 parents and teachers of kids ages four to ten years old, filled out questionnaires that explored the impact of diet on physical and mental health and performance. The researchers focused on this age range because parents and teachers have great influence on kids at these specific ages, especially when it comes to dietary choices. Most of the teachers were Caucasian and most were over 45 year of age. The teachers and parents came from England, Germany, Hungary, and Spain.

Study findings

Teachers and parents clearly understand the importance of diet when it comes to physical development. The fact that diet is directly implicated in mental development was not well recognized by these two groups. Answers were recorded in a range of one to five, representing “extremely” to “not at all” to “I don’t know.”

About 80% of parents and teachers acknowledged the role of diet in physical performance. Less than 67% of the parents and teachers recognized the link between diet and mental development.

Overall, participants from Spain, Hungary and England did think that dietary choices are very/extremely important for physical and mental development and that it can impact attention, mood, and behavior and sleep patterns. More of the Hungarian teachers and parents, especially those who expressed interest in healthier eating or higher education, did believe that diet influences physical and mental development. The researchers would like to explore what specifically led to the participants from Hungary to know more about the relationship between diet and mental development.

Study implications

It’s clear from these findings that countries do need to work on specific public health messages that identify how diets impact health in general, and especially the growing brains of children. For the messages to be effective, they likely have to use clear, simple language that can be understood by the masses. The messages also have to be framed in larger discussions about how diet can lead to better health and overall wellbeing.

You may also enjoy reading: There is No One-Diet-Fits-All

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