Kids who eat healthy breakfast get better grades at school, study finds

By @iamkarlatecson on
Children eating breakfast
hildren eat rice in their classroom for breakfast as part of the United Nations World Food Program at Bopha tipe elementary school in Somrong Tong district,Kampong Speu province, about 60km (37 miles) west of Phnom Penh, June 17, 2008. Reuters/Chor Sokunthea

Children who eat better quality of breakfast are twice as likely to perform above average at school than those who miss out a healthy morning meal, a ground-breaking UK study shows. 

For the first time, public health experts at Cardiff University have established a direct and positive link between students’ breakfast quality and consumption and their educational attainment. According to the researchers, eating unhealthy items like sweets and crisps for breakfast had no positive impact on educational attainment.

The study, which involved 5,000 children who are 9 to 11 years old from more than 100 primary schools, sought to examine the link between breakfast consumption and quality and subsequent attainment in Key Stage 2 Teacher Assessments after six to 18 months.

For the research, the participating students were asked to list all food and drink they consumed for over 24 hours. They were asked to note what they consumed at specific times throughout the previous day and for breakfast on the day of reporting.

In addition to the number of healthy items they consumed for breakfast, the children’s other dietary behaviours, including number of sweets and crisps and fruit and vegetable portions consumed throughout the rest of the day, were all taken into account in relation with educational performance.

The research published in the Public Health Nutrition journal offers the strongest evidence yet of links between aspects of what pupils eat and how well they do at school, which has significant implications for education and public health policy, according to the team.

While breakfast consumption has been consistently associated with general health outcomes and acute measures of concentration and cognitive function, evidence regarding links to concrete educational outcomes has until now been unclear, according to Hannah Littlecott, the study’s lead author from Cardiff University’s Centre for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement. 

Littlecott said that for schools, dedicating time and resources toward improving child health can be seen as an unwelcome diversion from their core business of educating pupils, in part due to pressures that place the focus on solely driving up educational attainment. However, this resistance to delivery of health improvement interventions overlooks the clear synergy between health and education, Littlecott said. She also pointed out that embedding health improvements into the core business of the school may also deliver educational improvements.

In Australia, an average of three students per classroom regularly arrive hungry in the morning, according to Foodbank Australia, the country’s largest food relief organisation. In its Hunger in the Classroom report released in May 2015, the teachers who were surveyed reported that over two thirds of students who miss out on breakfast find it difficult to concentrate or become lethargic. Over half of the students were also observed to experience learning difficulties or show behavioural problems.

The teachers who participated in the survey estimated that the average student loses more than two hours a day of learning time when they come to school hungry. On the basis of this happening once a week, the student loses in excess of a whole term of learning time over the course of a year.

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