A recent study of 4,000 Australian students found that those who eat vegetables on a daily basis achieve NAPLAN scores that are on average 86 points higher than those who do not. Despite the evidence connecting vegetables with academic achievement, many parents continue to feed their children foods lacking in nutrition, which often carry a higher price tag than the humble vegetable.
Providing children with a vegetable-rich diet will create short-term health benefits and influence their health for the rest of their lives. Research released by Imperial College London calculated that eating a diet high in fruit and vegetables – 10 portions a day – may result in a longer life. The research, which drew from data in 95 separate studies, concluded that eating more fruit and vegetables could prevent 7.8 million premature deaths each year. If 10 portions a day sounds unattainable, the analysis revealed that even small amounts do have significant health benefits.
The impact a nutritious diet has on children extends past health to social connectedness, mental wellbeing and development. Independent studies conducted by Deakin University and The University of Melbourne evaluated the Jamie’s Ministry of Food programme across Queensland and Victoria and found that just one result of healthy eating was social connectedness, as families come together to share the process of cooking and eating. The studies also revealed that a nutritious diet has a positive influence on people’s self-esteem and general sense of wellbeing – benefits that simply cannot be ignored for children in their formative years.
Fruit and vegetables are known to influence neurological activity, promoting better cognitive function as demonstrated in the study of NAPLAN results. As well as enhancing academic performance, the study found that eating more fruit and vegetables was associated with higher writing scores. Comparatively, drinking sugary beverages was associated with lower scores, particularly in reading, where students scored an average 46 points less than those who avoided unhealthy drinks.
Despite our increasingly busy lifestyles, feeding children processed foods with low nutritional value must be avoided. Fresh produce is often cheaper than processed food, and the preparation of healthy meals can be quick and simple when a routine is followed. Furthermore, the Deakin University and The University of Melbourne studies found that when participants gained skills and food knowledge, they naturally bought and consumed more vegetables. Vegetable-rich diets don’t need to be expensive or difficult – snacks needn’t be more sophisticated than a banana, multi-grain sandwich, nuts or yoghurt.
The proven benefits of a nutritious diet has driven the UK government to make cooking compulsory in schools for children up to the age of 14 – a decision the Australian and New Zealand governments would be wise to replicate.
To learn more about this topic, check out The Good Foundation online.