Children with robust physical health and general well-being are ready for the day each morning after getting the recommended ten hours of sleep at night. Adequate nutrition throughout the day enables positive behaviour choices and emotional control. It also improves memory. Thriving children eat meals with adult caregivers whenever possible, supporting healthy food choices and providing the space to forge strong relationships with the adults in their lives.
Measures of Physical Health & Well-Being
The MDI asks children about their body image and overall health, sleep habits, nutrition, and frequency of meals with family at home. See theTechnical Guide for the list of questions for all dimensions and additional detail on scoring the MDI.
Children in the middle years who feel healthy are more likely to be engaged in school, have a feeling of connectedness with their teachers, perform better academically and are less likely to be bullied or bully others. This includes feeling positive about the way they look. It is a time in which children form lasting viewpoints about their bodies as they become increasingly self-aware and self-conscious, comparing themselves to others. In fact, a poor body image during this time forecasts later depression and eating disorders in both boys and girls.
Meals with Adults at Home
A strong protective asset during this time is eating meals together as a family. Research has shown that engaging in regular family meals is related to increased self-esteem, school success and is also linked to healthier food choices across the lifespan.
Because of changes in the brain that take place around the time of puberty, children are actually more strongly attracted to junk foods that contain high amounts of fat and sugar than adults. Moreover, when given junk food options, children in middle childhood find it challenging to refuse. Although some children will experience obesity due to excess junk food consumption, others may not because of their physiological need for more calories during this time. Regardless of changes in weight, too much junk food affects cognitive function and memory.
A Good Night’s Sleep
During middle childhood, Canadian research suggests that children need 9-11 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. Children who do not get enough sleep are more likely to have troubles at school, be involved in family disagreements, and display symptoms of depression and anxiety. During middle childhood the brain is particularly sensitive to sleep quality because the brain’s memory and learning processes are developing during these periods.
A significant trend emerging from MDI data is that Grade 4 and 7 children score themselves lowest in nutrition and sleep relative to other assets. 25% of children in both Grades 4 and 7, for example, report having a good night sleep fewer than 2 nights per week.