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Eating, exercise affect kids in school

Published October 27. 2012 09:01AM

Parents beware.

Cheese curls and soda can make your sons and daughters stupid. Cell phones and computers can do the same.

No, this isn't the intro to one of those oversensationalized health and fitness articles this column warns you about. It's probably the pronouncement you would've made had you read the same articles I've read over the last few months.

Each one dealt with the health and fitness of kids in school. And each one suggested that children are not bulletproof when it comes to health, that your sons and daughters should be eating and exercising the way I want you to for the same reason I want you to.

For optimal health.

Research has shown that the mindset of prior generations was wrong. Today, kids don't automatically "grow out" of that baby fat we once thought was so cute.

They are not immune to the adverse affects of junk food besides obesity, either. It's just that the diagnosis of diabetes or heart disease usually occurs once the child becomes an adult but either disease begins years before that.

So allow me to state what in-the-know parents already know: that eating and exercise affect school performance. What follows is just some of the most recent proof that make that pronouncement so apparent.

A study presented at this year's annual meeting of the American Psychological Association that used more than 1200 Texas middle school students found a strong correlation between high grades in math and reading and heart and lung health. Other potential influences were examined, such as self-esteem, socioeconomic status, and social support, but doctor Trent A. Petrie, professor of psychology at the University of North Texas and co-author of the study, said that cardiovascular fitness was the only factor to positively affect both boys and girls and that the results of the study prove "schools need to re-examine any policies that have limited students' involvement in physical education classes."

FYI: In Pennsylvania, some districts have reduced phys ed time because of budget cuts necessitated by the reduction in aid allocated by the state and the need to make Adequate Yearly Progress on the PSSA tests, also mandated by the state. How ironic and shortsighted! that reducing gym time could be creating the problem it was designed to correct.

Earlier this year, a comprehensive review of 14 large-scale previous studies was published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine because researchers were fearful about the previously mentioned problem: that changes made in schools because of the need to do well on standardized tests were reducing physical activity in school and actually undermining success. The result: the researchers found a definite link to physical activity and academic performance in children though they called for further studies because most of the prior ones used subjective rather than objective measures of physical activity.

The two that didn't, however, also found that physical activity and academic success are related. What couldn't be determined from these two studies is if academic success continues to rise with longer and more intense periods of exercise.

A study published in Pediatrics tested 49 teens with metabolic syndrome a group of health conditions including obesity that usually develop into type 2 diabetes in spelling, arithmetic, and mental flexibility. Compared to the results of 62 healthy teens without the disorder, those with metabolic syndrome scored lower in all areas. They also were found to have less brain matter in the areas that control learning and memory.

All this led Medical News Today to use "Obesity Can Lower Children's IQ Scores" as the headline to their article on the study.

A study performed on rats at UCLA and published in the Journal of Physiology found that one specific food that has already been tied to the overall rise in obesity in children and adults alike, high-fructose corn syrup, also appears to hamper learning and memory by slowing brain function.

Researchers added HFCS to the drinking water of two groups of lab rats for six weeks, but one group's water was also supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids, which are crucial to the chemical processes that need to be made to learn and memorize. All the rats were then timed at how fast they negotiated a maze.

The group that didn't receive the omega-3 fatty acids to counteract the HFCS not only clocked slower maze times, but they also recorded less brain activity during the test.

Since the physiology of rats is similar to humans that's why they're so often used in experiments doctor Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, professor of neurosurgery at UCLA, declared, "Our findings illustrate that what you eat affects how you think. Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain's ability to learn and remember."

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