What are New Zealand parents' understandings about the effect of nutrition on children's learning? : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Educational Psychology at Massey University, New Zealand

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Massey University
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While there is sufficient evidence, through research or implemented public health and school programmes, to support the importance of nutrition for health and wellbeing, there is limited research on what parents’ understandings are regards the effect of nutrition on children’s learning. As parents are role models and nutritional gatekeepers for their children’s diet, gaining insight into their understanding of the relationship between nutrition and learning, would provide valuable data to inform this field of research. There is some research out of Europe but none within New Zealand. The purpose of this study was to: Gain an understanding of New Zealand parents’ views about the effect of nutrition on children’s learning? Five mothers of differing cultures, whose children attended a primary school in a large metropolitan city of New Zealand, were interviewed for this qualitative, exploratory case study. Semi-structured, in depth interviews were used to collect the data. The findings showed that parents in this study were aware and understood the physical and behavioural effects of food on children. Parents observed that diet affected learning, specifically concentration, but that this effect was an indirect effect, due to either the physical or behavioural effects of food on children. Parents distinguished between “good” and “bad” foods and what constituted a healthy diet and gave numerous examples of how “good” and “bad” food could affect a child. Quantity and the timing of food were also thought to impact children’s behaviour, particularly in terms of mood fluctuations. These effects cannot be seen in isolation though, as parent values, their culture, their health priorities, their behaviour, their parenting practices and the school support they did or did not receive, all contributed to this complex arena of feeding their children.