Child Nutrition and Cognitive Development: A Content Analysis

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Nationally, approximately 6 million children are suffering from food insecurity. Children living in a food-insecure environment are at greater risk of nutritional deficiencies, which can decrease the ability to learn and lessen cognitive development in K–12 students. Data from the study addressed the gap of limited understanding of the potential thematic relationships across different situational environments and factors that influence success at school. The purpose of the qualitative content analysis (QCA) study was to analyze peer-reviewed medical journals to reveal the influence food has on a student’s cognitive ability to learn. The significance of the study was to combat the effects of food on learning by incorporating knowledge into teaching and societal practices. Understanding potential thematic relationships can add overall knowledge to the connection between nutrition and academic performance and close the gap in knowledge via concise coding of peer-reviewed medical journals. The QCA study research goals focused on the conceptualization of data to create coding schemes that analyze the issues through a data reduction system, the abstraction of categories, and the thematic analysis between undernutrition and academic achievement. Selecting the appropriate peer-reviewed literature required the use of Walker and Avant’s method, which was used to identify, refine, evaluate, and define the attributes of concepts used to answer the research questions. The major themes of the literature review that emerged were food deserts, food insecurity, nutrition and cognitive performance, nutrition and physical activity, stress, working memory, and attendance and absenteeism. The study had three limitations: sample size, time constraints, and lack of collecting representative data.