How Does Hunger Affect School Performance?
Food security is defined as having access to adequate and nutritious food. Those who are food secure generally have no problems meeting their nutritional needs. They have the means to prepare meals for themselves or for others that depend on them. But what about those who are unable to regularly meet their dietary needs?
Food insecurity isn’t just an issue that affects third world countries. Many people even in developed nations struggle to access nutritious food on a daily basis. In fact, more than 4 million Australians have experienced some degree of food insecurity over the last 12 months. Children represent an estimated 22% of that figure according to the Foodbank Hunger Report.
The early years of a child’s life are crucially important in terms of physical and cognitive development. A lack of nutritious food can hinder growth in these areas and have adverse effects on learning. Here are just some ways that hunger affects school performance.
Hunger Reduces Ability to Focus
Each of us have limited cognitive bandwidth – A term scientists use to describe the brainpower we have available. If you have a bill due with no way to pay it, the thought of how you’re going to make a payment will take up what limited mental reserves you have. This may cause you to pay less attention to other areas like household chores.
It’s the same thing for children. It’s difficult for a child to focus when they’re experiencing the uncomfortable feeling of hunger. That, in turn, affects their ability to concentrate during class as their minds are occupied elsewhere. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition made the following conclusion, “...food insecurity was predictive of poor developmental trajectories in children before controlling for other variables.”
Hunger Leads to More Missed School Days
The immune system acts as the body’s defence against illnesses. It destroys harmful germs like viruses that enter your body. Most of the time you don’t actually notice it but the immune system is constantly working in the background to protect you. But there’s one major caveat – A healthy diet that provides nutritional value is a key contributor to a strong immune system.
Children who are food insecure often don’t get the vital nutrients their body needs. This results in a weaker immune system which in turn leads to more illnesses and more absences from school, making it even harder for the child to keep up with their coursework.
Hunger Leads to Behavioural Problems
Going hungry isn’t just distressing. Not getting enough food can also lead to an array of behavioural problems at school. A study from the American Psychological Association found that hungry children exhibited 7 to 12 times more symptoms of conduct disorder than their peers. These include fighting other classmates, having problems with a teacher, and not following the rules.
An increase in behavioural problems has an adverse on school performance. It indicates that the child is not actively focusing in class and acting out not only to their teachers but also to other classmates – Both of which can have a negative impact on their learning.
How You Can Help Food Insecure Children
There are a number of ways you can help. Consider volunteering at a local food bank. Many offer programs that help children get healthy meals to start their days and could use your help to pack food backpacks and deliver them.
You can also make a charitable donation to our organisation. At Cereal for Coffee, we supply breakfast clubs in schools across Brisbane with a nutritious breakfast and we’re on our way to feeding an average 1,600 kids each week. The donation you make goes towards feeding more children who would otherwise go to school hungry.