The Effects of Nutrition on Learning

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It has been known for quite some time that good nutrition has an impact on a child’s cognitive and physical development. While studies have proven this, there are still children in the United States that are undernourished. Food insecurity occurs in children when it is not known where food for their next meal will come. According to the USDA, there are 16.7 million children in the United States under the age of 18 that live in this condition. This is most common in low-income families, where there is already a higher occurrence of family stressors. All of these factors combine and have a stake in a child’s brain development, which can in turn impact how a child behaves, as well as how their body develops. This is especially important in the first 3 years of life, when establishing and maintaining good nutrition can have a larger impact on not only brain and physical development, it can also have implications on a child’s academic achievement.

Before we can start to delve into the impacts of a child’s nutrition, we must first look at the mother’s nutritional habits and how they affect fetal development. Before the mother even knows she is pregnant, the unborn fetus’ brain has already begun to form. To promote healthy fetal growth and development, a nutritious, healthy diet is recommended. This diet should also include the intake of a daily multi-vitamin that has folic acid. If a pregnant mother does not have a proper, nutrient-rich diet, or especially if it is inadequate, low infant birth weight and problems with brain development become concerns. A study was done in the Netherlands during WWII, where a famine had struck, confirms these outcomes. Pregnant women affected by the famine during their first trimester had a higher likelihood of miscarriage as well as a higher risk of physical birth defects. Pregnant women that made it to their second trimester were more likely to have babies born with low birth weight and smaller heads. (Berk, 2012) A smaller head most likely means a smaller brain weight. An infant born weighing less than 5.5 pounds is considered to have a low birth weight. When comparing these infants with infants born of normal weight, there is a higher risk for health problems and infection. Common problems associated with low birth weight are:

Low oxygen levels
An inability to maintain body temperature
Difficulty feeding, which can lead to difficulty gaining more weight •Breathing problems, such as respiratory distress syndrome •Neurologic problems
Gastrointestinal problems
Higher risk for SIDS, sudden infant death syndrome

There is also a higher risk that these infants will develop learning disabilities later in life and/or delayed motor and social development. Agnes H. Whitaker, M.D. from Columbia University and New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, conducted a study on 474 non-disabled adolescents who were born at or admitted to one of three New Jersey hospitals between 1984 and 1987 and weighed less than 4.5 pounds at birth. (Science Daily, 2006) The study looked at the subjects when they were 16 years old. Intelligence and motor tests were conducted, and the results were studied. There were differences found in motor skills and IQ scores compared to other average teenagers, and while the IQ scores were within normal range, they were significantly lower than the average.

Once the baby is born, the first two years of his or her life are the most critical time when nutrition is important, since it is the time when the child’s brain and body iare growing at its most rapid pace. In order for a child’s brain to develop properly, the child needs energy, and the way to get that energy is through nutrition. The best way for an infant to receive nutrients is through breastfeeding. Breast milk is tailor-made to meet the needs of each individual infant, and it goes through changes according to the needs of the child and his or her age, and it provides all...
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