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COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL Nutrition and Healthy Eating Habits The Link between Nutrition and Learning Educators should be aware of the strong link between nutrition and learning and academic achievement. Persistent lack of important nutrients in children’s diets affects cognitive ability, attention span, ability to concentrate, and IQ. It can also contribute to increased illness and absenteeism, both of which influence children’s learning in other ways. Even as seemingly small an act as skipping breakfast or eating a nutritionally void breakfast can negatively affect children’s capacity to learn (USDA 1999). If children are hungry or lack needed vitamins, they can’t think or concentrate. The education community has a clear investment in the resolution of these chal- lenges and should be involved in solving these problems. Solutions Most researchers have found that early prevention and interventions are more effective than adult intervention or education in reducing obesity. Future health challenges can be greatly reduced if healthy nutritional practices are introduced when children are young. Acting on this knowl- edge, many programs are beginning to focus on nutrition and children’s health in new ways. As a nation, we are making progress. For example, in December 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which increases the quality of foods served in schools. The act also allows a dinner meal to be served to children receiving free or reduced break- fasts and lunches, increases access to healthy drinking water, and eliminates unhealthy choices from school vending machines ( 2010). Farm-to-preschool programs help provide fresh, healthy food to early care and education programs. Weekend backpack initiatives, in which children receiving reduced lunch at school receive backpacks filled with nutritious food to take home over the weekend, are blossoming in communities across the country. Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign continues to attract attention and prompt change. But there is still a long way to go. What Can the Early Care and Education Community Do? Because children almost always eat meals and/or snacks in early care and education programs, care settings are ideal places to positively influence children’s nutrition, food choices, and taste preferences. In their earliest years, children develop attitudes and preferences that become the foundation of their adult opinions and behaviors. Thus, early care and education programs are optimal places for introducing healthy eating habits. This is especially important for the early care and education community, because some research indicates that child care attendance is associated with being overweight (Maher et al. 2008). Supporting children’s healthy nutrition and healthy eating habits is multifaceted; it includes: 3 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL