EDITORIAL: Better nutrition, better grades

WE have always been told that we are what we eat so why are we putting so much junk in our bodies and worst yet into our children? The statistics do not lie, a third of Barbadian children are overweight. This does not only increase their chances of being obese in adulthood and having non-communicable diseases but it can affect their performance in the classroom.

The Facts are on the labels

Processed food labels show a disturbing fact; these foods which are high in fat, sugar and salt have little nutritional value (no minerals or vitamins) and damage the body. It affects weight (creating fat and bloating), teeth, liver, heart, brain, pancreas, and intestines. But adults, the ones who introduce the foods to our children, do not see the consequences until it is too late.

Research in Barbados has shown that students can drink 3-4 sugar-sweetened beverages in one day! Diabetes is prevalent in Barbados and globally about 1.1 million children and adolescents are living with Type I Diabetes. This disease with time is deadly affecting nerves and the heart and many sufferers have other health issues like hypertension and kidney disease.

Children need proper nutrition

Children who do not get proper nutrition will not perform well academically. They are less likely to fight off infection and diseases which will affect their attendance at school. Some children do not get a balanced breakfast or any breakfast at all. According to the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, a 2005 study found that breakfast helps students work towards better grades in school.

A 2014 paper entitled, “Nutrition and Students Academic Performance” found 5th-grade students did not perform well on a standardised literacy test but they scored better in English and Science after eating freshly prepared meals.

Break bad habits

Barbadian children develop their eating habits at home and while the Ministry of Education will be introducing a new nutrition policy in the next academic year, it is up to parents to create a healthier approach to food. Junk food is not cheaper than fresh food. Fast food if bought every day can reduce your account by $100 with ease. Your children may enjoy the fries and ice-cream but what about the doctor bills and pharmacy visits? Parents must challenge themselves to buy fresh and nutritious foods and reduce the intake of overly processed meals and food options.

Children who are taken to the supermarket to pick up junk food in the cereal and snacks aisles need to visit the local markets and see fresh fruits and vegetables. In most neighbourhoods, there is an abundance of local fruit, passionfruit, tamarind, Bajan cherries, mangoes, sugar apples, golden apples, guava, and dunks. Most fruits have high levels of Vitamin C and fibre. Parents need to introduce these fruits to their children.

It’s not only diet

Diet is a major part of good health but exercise or physical activity is also vital. Many children today are spending long hours in front of devices and not outside. The pandemic and the recent ashfall are not helping the situation. But there are several ways children can engage in cardio through low-impact exercises like yoga and Zumba.

It is true food in Barbados is expensive but the sacrifice made to prepare wholesome meals and provide adequate nutrition for our children will determine if they thrive or fail academically, socially and physically in the future.