Last updated: August 24. 2013 6:01PM - 379 Views

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The end of the school year is here, and many students will be taking final exams.

Want your students to do their best? Long before we could appreciate it, our mothers told us to eat right and get plenty of exercise. Now there is new scientific evidence proving mom’s point. Using MRI scans, researchers looked into the brains of students and found places such as school cafeterias and playgrounds may be just as important as the classroom.

National statistics from "The Wellness Impact: Enhancing Academic Success Through Healthy School Environments" show that only 38 percent of all teenagers eat breakfast every day. Here in Ohio, we are below the national average. Statistics from the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey show only 30 percent of students surveyed in Ohio ate breakfast each day.

We know that hungry kids have a harder time concentrating, and now we know why. Research shows improved nutrition — starting with breakfast — coupled with increased physical activity may lead to improved academic performance.

It has been proven that those who eat breakfast have better attention and memory than breakfast skippers. Also, researchers compared one composite scan showing brain activity of students while sitting quietly and another scan showing brain activity after 20 minutes of physical activity, such as recess. The scan taken after the exercise shows improved cognition.

As a registered dietitian, people often ask me how to improve their children’s diets. The truth is small steps can make a big difference. One of the most important steps is to lead by example. Be sure your child eats breakfast every day. Find out if your school offers breakfast; it’s a great alternative for busy families. If your school does not offer school breakfast, consider asking them to do so.

Here are some other helpful tips from the American Dairy Association Mideast:

• Be a role model: Eat well and move more. Don’t let good habits, like eating breakfast and being physically active every day, slip away during the summer months.

• Try new foods: Encourage everyone in your family to try healthy foods that may not be as familiar to them.

• Learn more: Make plans to join your child at school to experience school lunch or breakfast firsthand to learn more about school meal programs.

• Inquire: At the start of next school year, reach out to your child’s principal to ask about your school’s wellness policy and ask what you can do to help make sure it’s communicated, implemented and monitored.

Child health is a priority for everyone including parents, educators, school administrators, and the community. We can work together to help students succeed in the classroom. The bottom line is healthy students are better students.

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