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Why Breakfast Matters to Kids

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album
Reviewed by Karla Shelnutt, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida, and Linda Bobroff, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences
This post is in honor of National School Breakfast Week (March 3-7). Learn more at Take Time for School Breakfast.

When I was in high school (and sleep-deprived like most high school students are!) I sometimes ended up dashing out the door to school without having any breakfast. I still remember my mother scolding me about how it was a terrible idea to skip this meal.

Now that I have children of my own, I’d send them to school without breakfast about as soon as I’d send them to school without pants! But they’re still quite young, and also very hungry in the mornings. Our family also is fortunate enough to have the time and resources to provide a sit-down breakfast.

However, not every child has access to a complete breakfast or even any breakfast at home. Some may have a long commute time, or may not be hungry or choose not to eat before school. In these cases, the School Breakfast Program can step in to make a difference. Free and reduced-cost school breakfasts are widely available at schools across the country to help students get a healthy start to their day. In 2011-2012, over 12 million students in close to 90,000 schools ate school breakfasts.

These programs have real and definable benefits. Multiple studies show that children who eat breakfast consume a more balanced diet, are less likely to be overweight, and perform better in school. A recent review of the evidence found that students who eat breakfast get higher grades and achievement test scores, especially in math. This effect is more noticeable for children who are undernourished or who come from poor backgrounds. Although the research on behavior isn’t quite as strong, it also appears that regularly eating breakfast improves students’ ability to stay on task in the classroom.

Students who participate in school breakfast also show improved attendance and get to school on time more often. And school breakfast programs have been linked to better student mental health and fewer visits to the school nurse. In fact, for many children, school breakfast likely helps to prevent many of the problems associated with hunger and food insecurity.

Though most students who eat breakfast receive it for free or at reduced cost, school breakfast advocates strongly support making breakfast freely available to all students during the regular school day. This removes any stigma associated with school breakfast and allows more children to benefit from the program.

So this week, take time to appreciate the role that school breakfast plays in improving the lives of millions of children across the country. And make sure your kids enjoy this important meal—either at home or school! Just like mom said, it really is the most important meal of the day.

To learn more about School Breakfast Week, visit the Take Time for School Breakfast campaign or the NEA’s page on school breakfast, or visit the School Nutrition Association Facebook page.  To learn more about how to help make school breakfast more available to more kids, and to view a great infographic about the importance of school breakfast, visit No Kid Hungry.

(Photo credit: SBP Chgo boy eating breakfast Mar2009 by US Department of Agriculture. CC license 2.0.)

References:

 Adolphus, K., Lawton, C. L., & Dye, L. (2013). The effects of breakfast on behavior and academic performance in children and teens. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7, 245. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2013.00425

 Food Resource and Action Center (2011). Breakfast for learning. Retrieved from http://frac.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/breakfastforlearning.pdf

 Food Resource and Action Center (2011). Breakfast for health. Retrieved from http://frac.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/breakfastforhealth.pdf

 Food Resource and Action Center. (n.d.) School breakfast program. Retrieved from http://frac.org/federal-foodnutrition-programs/school-breakfast-program/