PARSIPPANY — With students heading back to school or to college this fall, now is the time to discuss healthy eating habits that will promote learning and health, according to Delta Dental of New Jersey.
“After a summer of eating at home, it’s tempting to fall back into the cafeteria habit of eating sugary yogurt, chips and cookies,” said Suzy Press, D.D.S., a pediatric dentist and mother of four. “That’s why it’s especially important to talk to your children about good nutrition before school starts. This will help them make healthy decisions throughout the year.”
Studies have shown that good nutrition promotes both health and learning. “Well-nourished children attend school more regularly, can pay attention better and can finish assignments more easily than children who are hungry or undernourished,” according to the International Reading Association.1 “Even moderate undernutrition can have lasting effects on children’s cognitive development and school performance,” stated a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.2 The report states that chronically undernourished children have difficulty concentrating and typically attain lower scores on standardized achievement tests. In addition, they are more susceptible to infection, which can keep them out of school more frequently.
Oral health also has an impact on learning. According to the American Dental Association, tooth decay is increasingly a disease of children from low- and modest-income households. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that among children suffering from tooth decay, almost 50 percent remain untreated, with the disease resulting in pain, dysfunction, being underweight or having poor appearance — all problems that can greatly reduce a child’s capacity to succeed in the educational environment. In addition, the Surgeon General’s landmark study of oral health in America revealed that more than 51 million school hours are lost each year to dental-related illness alone.3 Through proper oral hygiene and nutrition, childhood tooth decay can be prevented. Good oral health leads to good overall health, which leads to the improved capacity to learn.
“But not just low-income households are at risk,” said Dr. Scott Navarro, dental director for Delta Dental of New Jersey. “Young people are increasingly targeted by sugary snack makers. Most foods advertised during children’s programming on TV are high in fat, sugar or sodium. There are few commercials for fruits and vegetables. Therefore, parents have to take an active role in educating their children about the right way to eat.”
Making Better Choices
The U.S. Department of Agriculture developed simple guidelines for healthier eating. Parents may use these as a basis for conversations with their children heading off to elementary, middle or high school or even college.
- Eat whole grains daily instead of refined grains. Whole grains include brown rice, oatmeal and whole-wheat bread. Refined grains include white bread and white rice.
- Eat healthier vegetables, including dark green and orange vegetables.
- Eat a variety of fruits.
- Choose a diet with plenty of grain products, fruits and vegetables.
- Choose fish, beans, nuts and seeds for some of your protein needs.
- Choose beverages and foods that will moderate your intake of sugars.
- Choose and prepare foods with less salt.
“The good news is that you can make a difference,” said Dr. Press. “A 2009 national study found that parents are the greatest influence on a child’s oral health habits. Set a good example with your own habits and routines. Monitor your children’s brushing and flossing. Serve healthy foods, drinks and snacks. With these steps, you can give your children a better chance for success in both school and life. That’s something we can all smile about.”
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