In today’s research environment, children’s diet, physical activity, and other lifestyle factors are commonly studied in the context of health, independent of their effect on cognition and learning. Moreover, there is little overlap between the two literatures, although it is reasonable to expect that the lifestyle factors explored in the health-focused research are intertwined with cognition and learning processes. This thematic review provides an overview of knowledge connecting the selected lifestyle factors of diet, physical activity, and sleep hygiene to children’s cognition and learning. Research from studies of diet and nutrition, physical activity and fitness, sleep, and broader influences of cultural and socioeconomic factors related to health and learning, were summarized to offer examples of research that integrate lifestyle factors and cognition with learning. The literature review demonstrates that the associations and causal relationships between these factors are vastly understudied. As a result, current knowledge on predictors of optimal cognition and learning is incomplete, and likely lacks understanding of many critical facts and relationships, their interactions, and the nature of their relationships, such as there being mediating or confounding factors that could provide important knowledge to increase the efficacy of learning-focused interventions. This review provides information focused on studies in children. Although basic research in cells or animal studies are available and indicate a number of possible physiological pathways, inclusion of those data would distract from the fact that there is a significant gap in knowledge on lifestyle factors and optimal learning in children. In a climate where childcare and school feeding policies are continuously discussed, this thematic review aims to provide an impulse for discussion and a call for more holistic approaches to support child development.
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