Our Kids as Lab Mice: Pondering Junk Food, Schools and Behavior

© Emilia Stasiak | Dreamstime.com

A while back, I pondered the mystery of why mice won’t eat the outer shell of a peanut M&M. Perhaps mice know something we don’t? You may agree after reading about an elementary school experiment with mice and junk food.

Each year, Sister Luigi Frigo’s second grade class in Cudahy, Wisconsin feeds two sets of mice a different diet for four days. One set eats highly processed foods that are typical of school cafeterias, 80 percent of which still sell fast food or junk food items. The other mice where fed a diet based on whole foods.

Within the short period of the experiment, the mice on the diet of junk foods displayed lethargic and nervous behaviors. Altering the diet back to whole foods resolved the issues, but took about three weeks to return to normal. After a few months, the students tried to feed the mice junk food a second time. The mice refused to eat it.

The experiment is based on a similar study done by students in Appleton, Wisconsin. In that study, the mice were fed different diets for three months. The “junk food” mice destroyed their habitat and two of the mice killed the third in the cage and ate him. Probably not good viewing for second-graders.

Granted, isolated experiments on rodents conducted by school children are not exactly “hard research.” There are several studies that do lend credence to a relationship between children’s behavior and what they eat. Here are a few interesting studies from reputable sources.

Nutrition Key to Aggressive Behavior, University of Southern California
The study showed that early malnutrition may lead to low IQ and later antisocial behavior.

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
Position Statement on Nutrition Programs and Services in Schools.

Nutrition and student performance at school.
Howard Taras, MD. Journal of School Health, 75(6), 199-213. 2005. Studies showed malnourished children were not able to perform as well academically as students who had adequate nutrition.

Improving the Quality of Students’ Dietary Intake in the School Setting.
S.K. Malone. The Journal of School Nursing, 21(2): 70-76. 2005.

Additional Studies

Online Resources
Breakfast for Learning
Food Research & Action Center (FRAC)
Description:  A brief review of the scientific research linking children’s nutrition and academic

Food and Nutrition Services
USDA. Food and Nutrition Service.
Program homepage includes guidance materials, program history, regulations, menu planning
information, income eligibility guidelines, and more.

Healthy Meals Resource System
Food and Nutrition Information Center (FNIC)
This Resource System includes resources, training materials and curriculums related to the
School Breakfast Program.

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