What Can Educators and Schools Learn from the New Field of Nutritional Psychology?

The field of nutritional psychology is in its infancy, but the research is significant enough for schools to take some notice.  

Nutritional psychology is a relatively new field of health psychology which studies the way nutrition and diet impact and change brain development, learning, and mental conditions.

Several important studies have been released in the last few years. The studies are significant enough for educators to take notice.  It is time for schools to take nutrition and life-style into consideration as a factor affecting children’s’ learning.

For example, a recent issue of the the journal Circulation, published a long-term study recently completed by Harvard University.  The study showed the relationship between sugar-sweetened and artificially-sweetened beverages and shortened lifespans. The 30-year study involving over 100,000 men and women showed that just a single serving a day of a sugar-sweetened drink leads to a 7% increase in early death from any cause, and a 5% increase in death from cancer. More significant is that one serving per day of sugar-sweetened drinks increased death from cardiovascular disease by 10%.

Even regular consumption of artificially-sweetened beverages was associated with an increase in death from all causes, except cancer. This was more significant in women than men.  

This research supports much of the other research we’ve seen linking sugar to learning problems, memory problems and health issues.  It is time for schools to take a stand. Sugar has no place in our schools.

Much has been studied recently on the impact of diet as it affects the production of serotonin. Serotonin contributes to well-being and happiness. Low levels of serotonin have been associated with poor memory, low mood and hostility.   As much as 90% of the body’s serotonin is produced in the digestive track – so diet plays a direct role in its production.

Additional nutritional psychology research hints at the role diet also plays in adolescent depression.  Teens who eat a low-quality diet are at much greater risk for depression and anxiety.

And one last area of current research looks at the effect lack of sunlight is having on our children.  It’s been long known that sunlight and exercise stimulate serotonin production in the body. The amount of sunlight children receive has changed drastically in that last few decades.  Between our school day, and the increase in electronic media which keeps children inside after school, are children are now part of a light-deprived society, which impacts learning.

Sleep, exercise, and diet,  effect a child’s development and learning, perhaps equal to or even more than curricula or teaching methodology. These need to be given more attention and priority in our schools.