Action for Healthy Kids, created in 2002, partners with schools throughout the United States to promote healthy lifestyles for children and adolescents through good nutrition and regular physical activity. Every child should be given the opportunities to adopt healthy lifestyle habits at an early age. Every Kid Healthy Week was launched in 2013 by Action for Healthy Kids and is observed the last week in April each year. This week highlights the important actions underway and achievements made within schools to foster health and wellness for students.
Current evidence supports the link between healthy students and academic achievements. Essentially, improved access to nutritious foods and regular physical activity can result in healthier students. And healthier students are better equipped to learn. For example, skipping breakfast is associated with decreased cognitive performance including attention, memory, and problem solving1-9. Further, students who are physically active have been shown to have better grades, school attendance, cognitive performance, and classroom behaviors10-13.
Children and adolescents spend a great deal of time at school, which makes it an ideal setting to promote health and wellness through offering healthy meals and opportunities to participate in physical activity. Regular physical activity in childhood and adolescence improves strength and endurance, helps build strong bones and muscles, helps control weight, reduces anxiety and stress, increases self-esteem, and may improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels14. The United States Department of Health and Human Services recommends that young people between the ages of six and seventeen years participate in at least sixty minutes of physical activity daily15. Sixty minutes of physical activity may seem difficult to achieve each day. Let’s break it down into three general types:
- Aerobic activity should account for most of the daily sixty-minute requirement and can include fast walking and running activities.
- Muscle strengthening can include recreational sport activities, such as gymnastics or martial arts, and climbing activities on the playground for younger children. Formal or structured muscle strengthening programs, by way of lifting weights, are more appropriate for adolescents.
- Bone strengthening activities can include skipping or jumping rope16.
Everyone can take part in contributing to the national efforts being made to provide opportunities for every child to embrace a healthy lifestyle through good nutrition and regular physical activity. Be sure to visit www.actionforhealthykids.org for a variety of ways in which you can get involved and celebrate Every Kid Healthy Week!
- Pollitt E, Mathews R. Breakfast and cognition: an integrative summary. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1998; 67(4), 804S813S.
- Rampersaud GC, Pereira MA, Girard BL, Adams J, Metzl JD. Breakfast habits, nutritional status, body weight, and academic performance in children and adolescents. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2005;105(5):743760, quiz 761762.
- Murphy JM. Breakfast and learning: an updated review. Current Nutrition & Food Science. 2007; 3:336.
- Benton D, Jarvis M. The role of breakfast and a midmorning snack on the ability of children to concentrate at school. Physiology & Behavior. 2007;90(2 3):382385.
- Gajre NS, Fernandez S, Balakrishna N, Vazir S. Breakfast eating habit and its influence on attention concentration, immediate memory and school achievement. Indian Pediatrics. 2008;45(10):824828.
- Wesnes KA, Pincock C, Richardson D, Helm G, and Hails S. Breakfast reduces declines in attention and memory over the morning in schoolchildren. Appetite. 2003; 41(3):329331.
- Vaisman N, Voet, H, Akivis A, Vakil E. Effect of breakfast timing on the cognitive functions of elementary school students. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. 1996;150(10):10891092.
- Widenhorn-Miller K, Hille K, Klenk J, Weiland U. Influence of having breakfast on cognitive performance and mood in 13- to 20-year-old high school students: results of a crossover trial. Pediatrics. 2008;122(2):279284.
- Mahoney CR, Taylor HA, Kanarek RB, Samuel P. Effect of breakfast composition on cognitive processes in elementary school children. Physiology & Behavior. 2005; 85(5): 635645.
- Carlson SA, Fulton JE, Lee SM, Maynard M, Brown DR, Kohl III HW, Dietz WH. Physical education and academic achievement in elementary school: data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. American Journal of Public Health. 2008;98(4):721727.
- Reed JA, Einstein G, Hahn E, Hooker SP, Gross VP, Kravitz J. Examining the impact of integrating physical activity on fluid intelligence and academic performance in an elementary school setting: a preliminary investigation. Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 2010;7:343351.
- Sallis JF, McKenzie TL, Kolody B, Lewis M, Marshall S, Rosengard P. Effects of health-related physical education on academic achievement: Project SPARK. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 1999;70(2):12734.
- Ericsson I. Motor skills, attention and academic achievements: an intervention study in school years 13. British Educational Research Journal. 2008;34(3):301-313.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. External Web Site Icon Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2008.
- CDC. How much physical activity do children need. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2015.
Jennifer Jezequel is a doctor of physical therapy at the CA Technologies Rehabilitation Center within Hospital for Special Surgery’s Lerner Children’s Pavilion.