The Survey on Dietary Patterns on the Academic Performance of Selected Secondary School Students in the Western Division
For this research 50 students were asked to fill in a structured questionnaire with 3 sections however only 40 returned it back. These questions were mostly contained personal information , background of parents and seven day food record table. From the data collect is was evident that diet does actually have an impact on the performance of students. The Body Mass index was calculated and it was found that 30% of students were underweight and 22.5% were overweight as was seen due to their poor diet. However consumption of unbalanced meals was common in all categories of students. From the food record it was determined that it was breakfast that students mostly missed out when compared to lunch and dinner. Also from the food record table a relationship was established where it was seen that it was the low performance students that had a poor diet when compared to students that are better academically.
Health is a vital component in person's life and with it no one extant today. It plays a crucial role determining how a particular person will function and perform in their daily lives. One such element contributing to healthy living is a proper diet and through that the various nutrients one attains from it. Nutrients are present in all the food and through the metabolic process of the digestive system it is broken down into smaller molecules which is absorbed by the human system (Campbell et al, 2004 ). Nutrients obtained from proper dietary patterns influence development and the health state of the brain. It provides proper structure for improvements in cognition, most importantly, academic performance in students (Burkhalter and Hillman, 2011). However, many countries in the world including the Pacific Island Nations have extended their concerns regarding inadequate and improper diet exhibited by people. According to (Braginsky et al, 2011) poor diet choices have is a common practice in both the developed and resource constrain nations such as the pacific islands and that to mostly common in youths and elderly people. Thus affecting how they perform in their respective environments.
Research done in the areas of diet and education has shown positive association between the two specially in school students. In developed nations such as Great Britain and certain areas of Northern Ireland research has shown that diet plays an integral part in the cognitive development in mid- childhood to adolescence in various cohorts (Northstone et al, 2012). Another research carried out in New Zealand showed a similar trend between cognitive thinking skills and the type of food consumed by 3.5 and 7 years of age students (Theodore et al, 2009). One of the other focus areas under this research is how grades of children are affected by their diet. Many authors have demonstrated and proven this association and have shown a positive outcome. Research in many other countries such as United States of America, Malaysia, England, Ireland, United Kingdom and Canada (Fungwe et al, 2009; Zaini et al, 2005; Adolphus et al, 2013; Northstone et al, 2012; Mcisaac et al, 2015). Most of these types of research are carried out in developed nations which are high income earners. However poor diet quality is mostly seen and a growing issue in underdeveloped to developing nations (Delisle,2015).
Very little is known about the diet patterns followed by students in low and middle income earning countries and how this impacts their performance in their schools. This study was carried out in the western front of Fiji Islands. The aim of this study was to assess the current diet patterns of secondary school students and relate to their academic performance. We hypothesized that there will a positive relationship between the type of diet that students have and their academic performance. As students with proper balanced meals would tend to have a higher academic performance when compared to students that have unbalanced meals.
This survey will be conducted with students aged between 15 - 19 years who are enrolled in Year 11 to Year 13 since they were senior students. Since it is the senior students that were using this academic performance results for University entrance qualification. This was carried out in four different schools namely Korovuto College, Swami Viveka Nanda College (SVC), Balata High School and Pt. Vishnu Deo Memorial College in the Western Division. The research tool used for this particular survey was structured questionnaire. The questionnaire contained two parts: demographic information including age (year), grade, and weight (kg), height (cm), waist measurements (cm) and questions about daily nutrition and diet habits of students. This survey continued for about a week. Appropriate authority approval such as Ministry of Education and school principal together with parental consent was sought before conducting the survey. 50 students were randomly selected from all the schools compromising of both males and females but only 40 questionnaires were returned back. Approximately 5-10 students will be piloted for filling in the questionnaire. Through this it was seen whether the students are able to understand the questions, the answers or data they provide and mostly are they able to fill the questionnaire in the required time frame. Students were asked to fill in questionnaire every day assisted by teachers during Form teacher period. The students were explained on the modalities and objectives of the study and informed after taking written consent from the parents of participating students. Data was entered in the Microsoft excel 2007 spread sheet and grouped. Student information such as height and weight was used to calculate the Body Mass Index for each student. The formula used was weight of the student (kg) was divided with the height in meters(m). The value was then divided by the height again to obtain the Body Mass Index (Burrows et al, 2015). According to the Body Mass Index range the students were classified as whether underweight, normal or overweight. Students that had a BMI of about 15-18.5 were underweight, 18.5- 25 normal and 25 and above were overweight (Burrows et al, 2015). Section C was analysed which contained a 7 day food record table for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Each meal consumed by the a student was classified as whether a balanced or unbalanced meal as outline by (Rohrlach, 2017). From the food table the percentage of students missing out on meals was calculated. Exam marks of the students undertaking the survey were obtained from the assistant principals office. The marks were then narrowed down out of 400 and the mean was calculated. Then classification of students were done according to their mean mark into low, medium and high performance. Mean marks ranging from 0-49% were low performers, 50-70% medium performers and 70% above were high performers. Performance and the percentage of skipping meals was compared to see whether a similar trend is present in pervious conducted studies.
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Figure 1: Represents the correlation between Body Mass Index and Mean of Exam marks . In Figure 1 it can be clearly determined that 22.5% of the 40 students surveyed for this research are overweight and most have shown to have to fall under low performers category. While 30% of the students are underweight and 47.5% fall under the normal Body Mass Index category .There are some exceptions in the Figure 1 where the BMI and mean of marks do not correlate .The calculation for body Mass Index only takes into account the height and weight of a student only. The p value came to ≤0.01 according to the t-test.
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Figure 2 : Shows the balanced and unbalanced meals in percentage consumed by all levels of academic performers. Each meal was looked at that is breakfast, lunch and dinner over a course of seven days.
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Figure 3: Depicts the percentage of meals missed by student Figure 4: Represents the percentage of each missed by students according to their performance meal missed from the food record table.
From figure 4 it can be determined that students who were studied mainly miss out on breakfast as depicted followed by dinner and then lunch. 83% of low performing students that missed out on breakfast when compared to medium where 44% missed and high performing 40%. For lunch it was 66.7% of low performers that missed out and only 22.20% for medium however for high academic performers it was 0%. In case for dinner it was 50% of low performing students that missed out, 33% for medium and 20% for high achievers. The p value according to t- test is 0.01.
The main finding of this study does prove an association between the diet and academic performance of students and this also relates to the previously conducted studies. The Body Mass Index which was calculated using the height and weight played an important role in classifying students into their weight categories. Body Mass Index is simply a measure which is used to look at the body fat content. (Fungwe et al, 2009) It was seen that students who fell under the category of overweight displayed a lower academic performance with few students as exception. This was a similar trend in a study conducted in United States of America where it showed a significant association between the two factors (Anderson and Good, 2017). It was also mentioned by the authors that students who consume food with high fat content tend to have declined cognitive skills however less physical activity may also play a part in this as well. Students that showed a normal BMI tend to consume fruits and vegetables which tend to improve and enhance problem solving thus leading to better performance in schools (Anderson and Good, 2017). Fruits and vegetables contain Flavonoid and non-flavonoid polyphenols which promote modulate learning (Fungwe et al, 2009). This is similar to results obtained in this study however with few exceptions where some students have displayed to have better results even though they fall under the underweight or overweight section. This is mostly related to other factors which may be at play for example energy demand of the body and person's body frame including bone mass could influence this information (Anderson and Good, 2017). A diet plan plays an important role in underlining the type of food a person should be eating. According to (Andersson and Bryngelsson, 2007) a diet plan should not be just for adults but is extremely important for students as well because of their constant energy demands. In this current study it was found that 85% of students do not follow a diet plan and 70% of them mentioned that their diet can be improved. This was similar in a study conducted by (Burkhalter and Hillman, 2011) where students did not have specific diet however consume food mainly based on taste. In addition figure 3 demonstrates that all levels of students that is high to low performers have demonstrated to consume meals that are unbalanced. This is related to the students not having a diet plan and maybe not aware of the type of foods they consume. Dietary components play a very important role in molecular and cellular processes which maintain a proper cognitive function leading to better academic performance (Burrows et al, 2015). Students skipping out on meals are another issue that was observed from the food record table. The main reason indicated by the students through the question was that they were busy. About 55% indicated that they are busy and rest mentioned they did not like the food prepared (15%) and other (15%) stated financial problems as there major reason. Youths that live in the pacific tend to live in extended families and are usually involved in taking care of the family members especially the elders and younger siblings (Braginsky et al, 2011). Due to this they tend to skip out on meals. Not having proper meals throughout the day can be detrimental to student’s health. For instance skipping out on breakfast can lead to students being less active in class and experiencing low respiratory fitness (Adolphus et al, 2013). It was seen from the data obtained that students mostly missed out on breakfast (38%) and it was commonly seen in low performing students (Figure 4). Even fasting amongst teenagers has led to low academic performance. Fasting during the adolescence period has shown to dilute the ability to solve problems which causes an overall decrease in their IQ. However, this can be reduced or eliminated by consuming a balanced meal which causes attentiveness and motivation in students (Burkhalter and Hillman, 2011). Another major issue that was seen from the feedback provided by the questionnaire was parental influence. Parents play a critical role in students life and mainly on the type of food they consume. It was seen that 45% of parents have only a secondary school education and students belong to a low to middle socioeconomic background. Research has shown that parents education does play an important role in how their children will be shaped (Brown and Ogden, 2004). It has been demonstrated that parents that have a higher education status tend to have better understanding about the types of foods that are healthy and required by their child thus leading to better academic performance (Brown and Ogden, 2004). School canteen are a major food source for students when they are in school. It found that many students on a regular basis purchase a variety of food and beverage products from these canteens (Tuiketei et al, 2010; Varman et al, 2013 ). It was found that 65% of students receive money for canteen and thus they purchase the various food products sold there. For Fiji 2005 Ministry of Education and Health Fiji launched various guidelines on the sale of healthy foods which was compulsory for all schools to follow (Kumar, 2012). In 2017, another such major regulation is in place by the Ministry of Education in Fiji which based on the type of food and beverages being sold in the school canteens. These new polices will enable the canteens to see healthy food which is important for a child's growth.
However one major factor that did impact the other students mentioned in this research was location. Two schools were located in the interior so here even students falling under high performance demonstrated to have shown high percentage of missing out on breakfast because they would have to catch the early bus to reach school on time. Other factor was canteen as one of the schools did not have any canteen just students mostly bring food from home.
Conclusively, research demonstrate that there are myriad factors impacting the performance of students but diet is major one as it affects all types of students. This research has demonstrated that yes diet does have an impact on the academic performance of students and the importance of consuming balanced meals. One trend that was seen in students is that most of them consume meals that are unbalanced and do not get the required nutrients Therefore, it is imperative that teachers recognize as to what the current dietary patterns of students in different schools and factors that lead to this type of diet and its overall the impact of these on the academic performance of children. Governments or policy makers have the ability and power to help resolve this impending problem of diet in schools but they need to start-up a monitoring programme to ensure that policies are followed in schools. Students are the future of any country and being the greatest national treasure, it is critical that we understand and try to rectify issues that acting as downfalls in their academic lives. This research contained some errors mainly the in regards to data collection. As 50 questionnaires were distributed but only 40 were returned. Secondly there very less monitoring of students as to how they fill out the questionnaire since the researcher was from outside the school. Also very verification of data was another issue especially for the food record table. This research is very profound for an island like Fiji however more time is needed to analysis a large scale population of students and also other factors just as parents, living situations and nutrient content using various software need to be taken into account.
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