Why Student Nutrition Programs?
Promoting and facilitating healthy eating among elementary aged students in Brant is a priority. Local evidence shows that it is difficult for many students to get adequate amounts of vegetables and fruits in our community. Data from the 2012 Early Development Instrument conducted by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services revealed that 17.3% of Brantford and Brant senior kindergarten students are vulnerable, or seriously lagging behind, when it came to their physical health and well-being.1 This developmental domain included questions surrounding nutrition, coming to school hungry, having low energy levels, and not being physically prepared for the day.
For example, 31.7% of parents of senior kindergarten students who were surveyed as part of the 2012 Kindergarten Parent Survey indicated that “Getting child to eat healthy” was a challenge they faced, making it one of the top challenges reported.3 Evidence for older children, such as Brant youth in grades 7-8 (Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey, 2015) indicates that 40.5% of students did not eat breakfast every day during school week, 24.1% reported going to bed hungry because there isn’t enough food at home at least ‘sometimes’, and 38.0% did not eat fruit and vegetables at least 3 times per day.2 Furthermore, a healthy diet is related to a healthy weight and 23.6% of students in grades 7-8 are overweight or obese.2
- Gaston, A., Babayan, A., Edwards, S. A., Tober, J. Early Childhood Experiences and Child Development in Brant: Lessons Learned From the 2012 Early Development Instrument and Kindergarten Parents Survey. Brant, ON: Brant County Health Unit, January 2015. Available online at http://www.bchu.org/StatsAndReports/kps_2014
- Unpublished data. Brant County Health Unit, Jan 22, 2016
Studies show that children and youth who are well-nourished perform better at school and are able to concentrate longer. Undernourished children have lower self-esteem, difficulty concentrating, and are absent more often. Providing a universal student nutrition program does more than just alleviate in-school hunger. Student nutrition programs are beneficial in many ways. They help:
- Contribute to child’s overall health;
- Improve students’ cognitive performance and their educational achievement;
- Improve classroom behaviour;
- Provide a safety net for children and youth who may be at risk of not eating an adequate breakfast in the morning because they are not hungry, their parents are not home, breakfast may be a low priority, or there may be financial concerns;
- Provide a vehicle for delivering nutrition education and consistent healthy eating messages; and,
- Foster a sense of community by providing a way to involve the parents of school children and other agencies.
Creating a Healthy School Nutrition Environment:
A Resource for School Decision Makers
Brant County Health Unit, 2005
Currently, there are limited community-based programs to support healthy nutrition for children and youth in Brant. The delivery of Universal Student Nutrition Programs in schools is working to fill this gap by providing breakfasts or snacks that include fresh fruits and vegetables to students.