How Health Influences Learning in Children

Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

This lesson highlights several common issues that impact health and learning in children. Following the lesson is a short quiz to test what you have learned.

The Link Between Health and Learning

Throughout our lives, we are told to eat healthy and exercise to stay healthy. Usually, when we think about what it means to be healthy, we focus on physical health. Being physically healthy typically means being of a normal size and avoiding illness or disease of any kind. However, did you know that the physical health of an individual can impact the way he or she learns? This is especially important to consider when discussing the relationship between health and learning in children.

Research indicates that healthy students perform better on academic measures than unhealthy students. Think about this statement for a moment. Why and how would physical health impact academic performance? Have you ever tried to take a test when you were hungry? Have you ever missed a test because you were suffering from an illness such as the flu virus? If you answered yes to either of the aforementioned questions, you are already aware of several solid examples of how health impacts learning in children.

Poor Nutrition and Hunger

Poor nutrition is a common issue among children and is responsible for nearly half of all deaths in children ages five and under. It means that one's diet is lacking in vital micronutrients. Poor nutrition can lead to malnutrition, which impairs normal growth and development. Children who are malnourished tend to be smaller and more vulnerable to illness than children who receive adequate nutrition. Malnutrition can also negatively impact cognitive development in children because the brain does not mature as it should when necessary vitamins and minerals are lacking. It is no surprise, then, that children who do not have access to healthy foods do not learn as efficiently as those who do.

Remember our example of trying to take a test while starving? It makes it really difficult to focus when your stomach is growling for food, doesn't it? Imagine feeling like that all the time. That is the plight of hungry children. Hunger is a global problem; reports estimate that well over sixty million children go to school hungry each day! Research indicates that children who receive free breakfast and lunch at school perform better in terms of academic benchmarks than those who do not, thus illustrating the negative impact that hunger can have on learning in children.

Providing Free Breakfast and Lunch to School Children Increases Learning
school lunch

Poor Hygiene and Lack of Immunization

Children cannot learn if they are not present in school. Poor hygiene and lack of immunization both increase the chances of illness among children; this contributes to an increase in absences and a decrease in academic performance. That said, reducing illness-related absenteeism is essential toward increasing learning in children. Simple practices, such as good hygiene and vaccination, can be very effective in reducing absences among school-aged children.

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