A NZ study aimed at better understanding relationships between food intake patterns and learning behaviours is being conducted in Auckland schools.

In a move harking back to the days when milk was delivered free to schoolchildren, yoghurt company EasiYo is a major supporter of The Big School Feed, a community initiative delivering healthy nutritional alternatives to around a dozen low deciles schools in the West Auckland area.

Anecdotal feedback so far from teachers and parents is that the children have been able to concentrate better in the classroom as a result of the daily breakfast delivery. EasiYo now plans to take that feedback one step further and in a new initiative intends to research whether the improvements are real by determining effects on learning and development in school children.

EasiYo announced the launch of the research project at its new manufacturing and office facility in Albany, Auckland, which was officially opened by Prime Minister John Key today (May 27).

EasiYo chief executive Paul O’Brien said: “As we all know a balanced intake of nutritious alternatives is critical for normal development and active children. It is all too common for some children to go to school on an empty stomach or have an inadequate breakfast such as crisps or fizzy drink. Our contribution through The Big School Feed has shown us anecdotally that nutritious breakfasts appear to help children concentrate better in the classroom”.

By teaming up with health and nutrition researchers at the University of Auckland’s Liggins Institute, EasiYo will invest in a new project aimed at answering key questions related to nutrition, food intake patterns and learning and cognition outcomes in school children.  The project is still in the scoping and planning stage and would not be possible without access to R & D funding through the government’s incentive package as announced in the 2010 budget.

O’Brien sees the involvement of low deciles schools similar to those involved in the Big School Feed as a key advantage of the new study and is strongly of the view that research on healthy nutrition in schools has far reaching implications for further education.

Liggins Institute business and innovation manager Dr Steve Hodgkinson says the project is a major research initiative around healthy nutrition and learning outcomes in schools. “The sorts of research questions likely to be addressed include the effects of breakfast and grazing food intake patterns on quality learning.”

The Big School Feed was established by the Encounter Christian Centre, and engages a team of teenagers from the Community Max program to run the scheme. The Community Max program is an employment initiative funded by the Ministry of Social Development to help young people assist in community-based projects.

Several businesses supply the breakfast food free of charge or at cost.

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