A 2014 statewide survey found that large majorities of Minnesotans recognize the impact of good nutrition on academic success and are willing to invest in programs to improve health.

Eight out of 10 Minnesotans agree with each of the following statements:

  • “Designing communities so there is easy access to safe parks would encourage more physical activity among children and reduce the number of obese children.”
  • “It might cost some money for schools to teach good eating habits to children, but it would be a worthwhile investment.”
  • “Children who have more nutritious diets – such as eating more fruits and vegetables and starting every day with a healthy breakfast – do better academically.”

Support for programs that improve the health of children is reinforced by academic studies that show the influence of nutrition on academic success. Wilder Research documented the connection in its report, “Nutrition and Students’ Academic Performance.”

“Recent studies have demonstrated that nutrition affects students’ thinking skills, behavior, and health, all factors that impact academic performance…For example, one study found that 5th grade students with less nutritious diets performed worse on a standardized literary assessment…Another study discovered that 5th grade students who ate more fast food fared worse on math and reading scores… Similarly, a study that analyzed a healthy eating campaign that banned junk food from schools and introduced healthier, freshly prepared school meals found that participating students scored higher on English and science tests than students who did not take part in the campaign…Nutrition also indirectly impacts school performance. Poor nutrition can leave students’ susceptible to illness or lead to headaches and stomachaches, resulting in school absences…”

The connection between good health and academic success was brought to mind by a recent article in the Minneapolis StarTribune that focused on an innovative program in which health insurers provide discounts for healthy foods to members of their employer groups.  The program was brought to the Twin Cities by Medica.

The hope for insurers goes beyond improving outcomes for kids. Health costs for Minnesotans with chronic illnesses are nearly eight times the cost of those with no chronic illnesses, according to a study by the Minnesota Department of Health lifestyle changes – including improvements in healthy eating – can reduce the prevalence of chronic illnesses.

The healthy eating coupons won’t reduce health costs or improve kids’ success in school alone. But they are the kind of innovation that is needed to improve health and reduce costs.