The Impact of Nutrition on Children’s Cognitive Development

by James A. Floros, President & CE0, Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank

Did you know that growing up in severe poverty affects the way children’s brains develop, putting them at a lifelong disadvantage?

A 6-year study by researchers the University of Wisconsin-Madison concluded that the parts of the brain tied to academic performance were 8%-10% smaller in children who grow up in very poor households. Clearly, inadequate nutrition plays a big part in this.

When a parent is on a limited budget, they don’t shop around the outside of the grocery store, where more nutrient-dense foods are sold. Fruits, veggies, dairy and meat are too costly to purchase; they need to ensure their children’s stomachs are filled, so are forced to purchase the more affordable processed foods in the center aisles.

The UW study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, builds on other research suggesting that poverty affects the parts of the brain tied to traits important for success in school (and life) – things like self-control, attention span and planning. No wonder kids who live in poverty struggle in school.

Here in San Diego County, 1 in 5 children are food insecure – they don’t always know where their next meal is coming from.  It is heartbreaking.  When their stomachs are empty, it’s hard to relax and play, much less focus on homework or even sleep.  And according to this study, their brains are paying the price – an extremely high price, considering their future success is at stake.

 For many kids, the last meal of their week is Friday’s school lunch – there’s little or no food at home. At Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank, we’re making a difference to many of those young people. This year, we’re partnering with 35 schools throughout the county to provide kid-friendly, nutritious food to children every single Friday through our Food 4 Kids Backpack Program.  It’s important, because to be schooled, they must be fueled.

We don’t want to just fill people’s bellies – we want to provide nutritious food, and end the vicious cycle of poverty.

To read more on this important study, go to