Children often hear their parents say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It fuels the body for a long day’s work or school. That adage is true as a new study shows that skipping breakfast is tied to lower scores in high school performance tests.
The General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) is a set of examinations taken in Wales, England, Northern Ireland and other British territories that are usually taken by students between 15 and 16 years of age. It provides a uniform framework for the assessment of students.
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A team of researchers at the University of Leeds wanted to see the effect of eating or skipping breakfast on the academic performance of students, particularly looking at their GCSE scores. They found that students who seldom or rarely consumed breakfast on school days had lower GCSE grades than those who are breakfast regularly. The team has demonstrated the relationship between eating breakfast and GCSE performance for secondary school students in the United Kingdom for the first time.
Published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health, the study involves incorporating all of the exam results of the students. In turn, the results show that those who rarely consumed breakfast before going to school incurred nearly two grades lower than those who regularly ate their morning meal.
"Our study suggests that secondary school students are at a disadvantage if they are not getting a morning meal to fuel their brains for the start of the school day. The UK has a growing problem of food poverty, with an estimated half a million children arriving at school each day too hungry to learn. Previously we have shown that eating breakfast has a positive impact on children's cognition. This research suggests that poor nutrition is associated with worse results at school,” Dr. Katie Adolphus from the University of Leeds' School of Psychology and lead author of the study said.
Eating breakfast helps with academic performance
To land to their findings, the team of researchers surveyed nearly 300 students from schools and colleges in 2011 in West Yorkshire. They found that about 29 percent seldom or never ate breakfast during school days, while about 18 percent sometimes ate their breakfast. An estimated 53 percent regularly eat their breakfast.
They compared these rates to the children’s GCSE scores. The team converted the grades to point scores and added the students’ scores in all their subjects. The team revealed that those who seldom ate breakfast scores an average of 10.25 points lower than those who regularly consumed their morning meal, a difference of about two grades.
Individually, the students who rarely consumed breakfast scored 1.20 points on average, which is lower than those who regularly ate breakfast.
"The National School Breakfast Programme is delighted to see the publication of this thorough and compelling research, highlighting the impact that breakfast consumption has on a child's GCSE attainment. This report provides impressive evidence that eating a healthy breakfast improves a child's educational attainment, which supports our findings of improvements in a child's concentration in class, readiness to learn, behavior and punctuality,” Nicola Dolton, Programme Manager for the National School Breakfast Programme, from Family Action, said.
Most important meal of the day
In many countries, breakfast has been recognized as one of the most important meals of the day. Regularly eating breakfast is tied to a range of benefits in children and teenagers, including lower body mass index (BMI), consuming the needed micronutrients and macronutrients, better levels of well-being, a better quality of life, and higher cognitive performance.
Eating breakfast has shown to trigger changes in metabolism, resulting in improved better choices and diet quality that can provide many health benefits in children and adolescents.
Free breakfast in schools
The England government has a program to provide free school lunch to students, but there is no program intended for breakfast. However, charities like Magic Breakfast and Family Action provide a breakfast program, which is funded by the Department of Education, that gives free breakfasts for more than 1,800 schools in the most economically-deprived parts of England.
Further, Magic Breakfasts give out free breakfasts to 480 more UK schools. The researchers urge the government to provide free school breakfast, which will include all state schools in the country. Currently, a school breakfast legislation is being considered by politicians.
The researchers emphasize that breakfast is important in boosting the students’ academic performance and removing barriers to learning. Making sure every student has a healthy start in school is crucial in promoting good physical and mental health among students.
Associations Between Habitual School-Day Breakfast Consumption Frequency and Academic Performance in British Adolescents, Front. Public Health, 20 November 2019 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2019.00283, Katie Adolphus, Clare L. Lawton and Louise Dye, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpubh.2019.00283/full