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Fuel those little brains!

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

Kimberley Wright Health -kids eating healthy helps their brains

There's a lot of controversy around NAPLAN testing and the effect it is having on our kids emotionally, however the test has been useful in showing us one thing - the foods we give our children can affect their academic performance and ability to learn.

A recent study conducted within 26 South Australian schools of children between 9 -11 years concluded that unhealthy eating habits directly correlates to poor NAPLAN scores. NAPLAN stands for National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy, and is the standardised testing that takes place across the nation for students in years 3, 5, 7 & 9.

The study found that children that ate more processed foods in a week (such as cakes, fast food, pizza, hamburgers & soft drink) compared to whole foods, had a lower academic performance than children that consumed less of these foods and more whole foods (including fruit, vegetables and wholegrains) in an average week. Areas affected were language (including spelling, grammar and punctuation), numeracy and reading.

When NAPLAN domain scores were averaged, a 1 Standard Deviation higher 'processed' food eating pattern was associated with a 12.6 point lower NAPLAN summary score, equating to an eight percent change in performance.

This is huge. An eight percent change in performance is pretty significant. This is the first study of it's kind that clearly shows the impact of the foods we give our kids and their ability to learn.

I personally believe very much in balance - allowing kids to have a treat here or there, some cake when celebrating a birthday or another celebration. But for chocolate, biscuits, lollies, chips to be just that - treats. It's not just that these foods lack nutrition - they also contain additives (preservatives, colours, flavours) that may be detrimental to our children, affecting behaviour and their ability to learn.

As a parent, I also believe it's so important to be the one to set the example. Eat whole foods yourself, and offer them to your kids. Eat a wide variety of fruits & vegetables, and show your kids that this is the norm. Limit the treats you have in the house so you're not reinforcing to your kids that these are the foods you go to when you're tired, feeling lazy, bored. Show them how easy it is to prepare healthy & delicious snacks and meals. Make healthy the norm in your house. Be their healthy role model. Their little bodies and brains will thank you!


  1. Pearce K, Golley R, Lewis L, Cassidy L, Olds T, Maher C. The Apples of Academic Performance: Associations Between Dietary Patterns and Academic Performance in Australian Children. J Sch Health. 2018;88(6):444-452. doi:10.1111/josh.12631.

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