NACCHO Aboriginal Children’s Health #BacktoSchool : What our kids eat can affect not only their physical health but also their mood, mental health and learning

“When kids eat a healthy diet with a wide variety of fruit and vegetables in that diet, they actually perform better in the classroom.​     

They’re going to have better stamina with their work, and at the end of the day it means we’ll get better learning results which will impact on them in the long term.”

Marlborough Primary School principal

We know that fuelling children with the appropriate foods helps support their growth and development.

But there is a growing body of research showing that what children eat can affect not only their physical health but also their mood, mental health and learning.

The research suggests that eating a healthy and nutritious diet can improve mental health¹, enhance cognitive skills like concentration and memory²‚³ and improve academic performance⁴.

In fact, young people that have the unhealthiest diets are nearly 80% more likely to have depression than those with the healthiest diets

Continued Part 1 Below

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people suffer increased risk of chronic disease such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Eating healthy food and being physically active lowers your risk of getting kidney disease and type 2 diabetes, and of dying young from heart disease and some cancers.

Being a healthy weight can also makes it easier for you to keep up with your family and look after the kids, nieces, nephews and grandkids. “

Continued Part 2 Below

Part 1

Children should be eating plenty of nutritious, minimally processed foods from the five food groups:

  1. fruit
  2. vegetables and legumes/beans
  3. grains (cereal foods)
  4. lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans
  5. milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives.

Consuming too many nutritionally-poor foods and drinks that are high in added fats, sugars and salt, such as lollies, chips and fried foods has been connected to emotional and behavioural problems in children and adolescents⁵.

In fact, young people that have the unhealthiest diets are nearly 80% more likely to have depression than those with the healthiest diets¹.

Children learn from their parents and carers. If you want your children to eat well, set a good example. If you help them form healthy eating habits early, they’re more likely to stick with them for life.

So here are some good habits to start them on the right path.

Eat with your kids, as a family, without the distraction of the television. Children benefit from routines, so try to eat meals at regular times.

Make sure your kids eat breakfast too – it’s a good source of energy and nutrients to help them start the day. Good choices are high-fibre, low-sugar cereals or wholegrain toast. It’s also a good idea to prepare healthy snacks in advance for them to eat in between meals.

Encourage children to drink water or milk rather than soft drinks, cordial, sports drinks or fruit juice drinks – don’t keep these in the fridge or pantry.

Children over the age of two years can be given reduced fat milk, but children under the age of two years should be given full cream milk.

Why are schools an important place to make changes?

Schools can play a key role in influencing healthy eating habits, as students can consume on average 37% of their energy intake for the day during school hours alone!6

A New South Wales survey found that up to 72% of primary school students purchase foods and drinks from the canteen at least once a week7. Also, in Victoria, while around three-quarters (77%) of children meet the guidelines for recommended daily serves of fruit, only one in 25 (4%) meet the guidelines for recommended daily serves of vegetables8; and discretionary foods account for nearly 40 per cent of energy intake for Victorian children9.

It’s never too late to encourage healthier eating habits – childhood and adolescence is a key time to build lifelong habits and learn how to enjoy healthy eating.

Get started today

You can start to improve students’ learning outcomes and mental wellbeing by promoting healthy eating throughout your school environment.

Some ideas to get you started:

This blog article was originally published on Healthy Eating Advisory Service . 

Part 2

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people suffer increased risk of chronic disease such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Eating healthy food and being physically active lowers your risk of getting kidney disease and type 2 diabetes, and of dying young from heart disease and some cancers.

Being a healthy weight can also makes it easier for you to keep up with your family and look after the kids, nieces, nephews and grandkids.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may find it useful to chose store foods that are most like traditional animal and plant bush foods – that is, low in saturated fat, added sugar and salt – and use traditional bush foods whenever possible.

The Healthy Weight Guide provides information about maintaining and achieving a healthy weight.

It tells you how to work out if you’re a healthy weight. It lets you know up-to-date information about what foods to eat and what foods to avoid and what and how much physical activity to do. It gives you tips on setting goalsmonitoring what you dogetting support and managing the challenges.

There are also tips on how to eat well if you live in rural and remote areas.

The national Live Longer! Local Community Campaigns Grants Program supports Indigenous communities to help their people to work towards and maintain healthy weights and lifestyles. For more information, see Live Longer!.

Part 3 Parents may not always realise that their children are not a healthy weight.

If you think your child is underweight, the following information will not apply to your situation and you should seek advice from a health professional for an assessment.

If you think your child is overweight you should see your health professional for an assessment. However, if you’re not sure whether your child is overweight, see if you recognise some of the signs below. If you are still not sure, see your health professional for advice.

Overweight children may experience some or all of the following:

  • Having to wear clothes that are too big for their age
  • Having rolls or skin folds around the waist
  • Snoring when they sleep
  • Saying they get teased about their weight
  • Difficulty participating in some physically active games and activities
  • Avoiding taking part in games at school
  • Avoiding going out with other children

Signs that a child is at risk of becoming overweight, if they are not already, include:

  • Eating lots of foods high in saturated fats such as pies, pasties, sausage rolls, hot chips, potato crisps and other snacks, and cakes, biscuits and high-sugar muesli bars
  • Eating take away or fast food meals more than once a week
  • Eating lots of foods high in added sugar such as cakes, biscuits, muffins, ice-cream and deserts
  • Drinking sugar-sweetened soft drinks, sports drinks or cordials
  • Eating lots of snacks high in salt and fat such as hot chips, potato crisps and other similar snacks
  • Skipping meals, including breakfast, regularly
  • Watching TV and/or playing video games or on social networks for more than two hours each day
  • Not being physically active on a daily basis.

For more information:

References for Part 1

1 Jacka FN, et al. Associations between diet quality and depressed mood in adolescents: results from the Australian Healthy Neighbourhoods Study. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2010 May;44(5):435-42. https://doi.org/10.3109/00048670903571598571598
2 Gómez-Pinilla, F. (2008). Brain foods: The effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9(7), 568-578. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2805706/
3 Bellisle, F. (2004). Effects of diet on behaviour and cognition in children. British Journal of Nutrition, 92(2), S227–S232
4 Burrows, T., Goldman, S., Pursey, K., Lim, R. (2017) Is there an association between dietary intake and academic achievement: a systematic review. J Hum Nutr Diet. 30, 117– 140 doi: 10.1111/jhn.12407. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/jhn.12407
5 Jacka FN, Kremer PJ, Berk M, de Silva-Sanigorski AM, Moodie M, Leslie ER, et al. (2011) A Prospective Study of Diet Quality and Mental Health in Adolescents. PLoS ONE 6(9): e24805. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0024805
6 Bell AC, Swinburn BA. What are the key food groups to target for preventing obesity and improving nutrition in schools? Eur J Clin Nutr2004;58:258–63
7 Hardy L, King L, Espinel P, et al. NSW Schools Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey (SPANS) 2010: Full Report (pg 97). Sydney: NSW Ministry of Health, 2011
8 Department of Education and Training 2019, Child Health and Wellbeing Survey – Summary Findings 2017, State Government of Victoria, Melbourne.
9 Department of Health and Human Services 2016, Victoria’s Health; the Chief Health Officer’s report 2014, State Government of Victoria, Melbourne.

 

 

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