Cheese sandwich
Cheese sandwichiStock

An Israeli study has provided key academic evidence linking adequate nutrition to reduced behavioral problems among students.

The research, performed on behalf of the Israeli non-profit “Nevet“ which distributes daily meals to needy children across the country, found that children in their programs experienced dramatically improved behavior.

The survey, which was conducted by the Jerusalem-based MASHAV research group, included a finding that students who are in the Nevet program are 12 percent less likely to require Ritalin than they were before they were receiving the nutritional support. Furthermore, they reported a 22 percent reduction in the incidence of smoking during school time among the students in the Nevet program.

“This study offers critical backing that providing students with nutrition is not just about making them less hungry but has direct educational and social value by transforming how these students behave and relate to their surroundings,“ says Rotem Yosef, CEO of Nevet. “Most importantly it proves that with a very modest investment in their nutrition today, it can lead to savings many times over by avoiding the need for far more costly welfare and social interventions.”

The study was carried out among principals, school psychologists and teachers of classes representing 6,680 students in 35 cities throughout Israel which receive support from Nevet. Other key indicators were that classroom attendance improved by as much as 45 percent when students began to eat properly and there was a dramatic reduction in the amount of violence and bullying from the students in the program.

“The message is clear that when it comes to complex problems sometimes the solutions are very simple, and here we need to ensure that students who aren’t able to properly feed themselves are getting the support they need,” said Yosef.

A full 91 percent of the school principals surveyed said that the daily sandwiches were instrumental in positively changing the educational environment. “The classroom is often defined by competition and sadly a hungry child is at a major disadvantage that leads him or her to either misbehave or to simply find ways to escape from class or school,“ said a principal with a large low-socioeconomic population in his school. “This study gives us the evidence everyone needs to see - that by providing an equal playing field in terms of basic needs we can significantly address these challenges in a way that is relatively accessible, financially viable and most importantly can make an immediate and long-lasting difference.”

The study corroborates international research conducted on the increasing importance of funding school breakfast programs as a means to effectively increase student attendance and attention rates. “Whether a student is rich or poor and regardless of where they live on the globe, if they are hungry they won't be able to focus,” says Yosef. “And that lack of focus not only hurts his or her ability to thrive academically but also to function socially and behaviorally.”

The Nevet program, which began in 2006 reaching 200 students has since expanded to provide daily meals to over 8,000 students across Israel. The organization, whose operations are privately funded with support from local municipalities, coordinates the production and distribution of healthy sandwiches to schools around the country.

The meals are packaged without any markings and then discretely given out to needy children by volunteers so that the child can benefit without any stigma or knowledge of their classmates. In fact, students don’t even know about the existence of the organization behind this effort.

“The relationship between the teacher or school with the student is the most important part,” says Yosef. “That element of trust and care that the student sees from his or her teacher in providing a most basic need is a major part of the motivation that same student will have to improve and become a more attentive student.”