Do Kids Who Eat Breakfast Perform Better Academically?

  • Article
  • March 9, 2017

Three out of four public school teachers say K-8th grade kids regularly come to school without eating breakfast, according to the 2015 No Kid Hungry survey.

How does this affect a child’s ability to learn? While there may be evidence of improvement in some areas there still isn’t enough evidence to say eating breakfast has a large impact for all students. Let me explain.

In a previous article, Dr. Naiman Khan pointed out when it comes to cognitive performance, most children can benefit from habitually eating a high-quality diet. In fact, according to a recent systematic review in children aged 5-18 years, both overall diet quality and eating breakfast have a moderate positive association with academic achievement.

So let’s look at the results of a different systematic review of 45 intervention studies that specifically examines the effects of breakfast on cognition in children and adolescents (4-18 years). The studies included compared the short-term effect of eating or skipping breakfast, different breakfast types or long-term participation in the school breakfast program. Some of the objective cognitive outcomes measured included attention, memory, executive function and language. Here are the main findings:

  • Eating breakfast compared to skipping breakfast had a short-term beneficial effect on cognitive function when measured within four hours after eating -- with benefits most apparent in undernourished children, males, and children with IQs below the sample median. Tasks requiring attention, executive function, and memory were facilitated more reliably by breakfast consumption.
  • Eating breakfast helped reduce the decline in cognitive performance seen in mid-late morning when compared to skipping breakfast. 

According to this review, the quantity of scientific evidence on the short-term effect of breakfast vs. no breakfast may support the above conclusions. However, it’s important to note that these results may not apply to all children (i.e., the majority of children were between 6-10 years of age), or reflect the influence of children’s usual eating habits.

Overall, the benefits of eating breakfast were small, and the researchers noted the effects of breakfast on specific cognitive outcomes are likely subtle, and only demonstrated under specific conditions or in certain subgroups of children. However, the researchers also pointed to consistent evidence that eating breakfast benefits children’s mood, alertness and motivation more subjectively, which may increase a child’s ability to concentrate or try hard on academic tasks. Future research is needed to further clarify the effect of these relationships.

Children’s readiness to learn can affect their future, so health and wellness professionals, educators and parents should encourage children to eat breakfast and have an overall healthy eating plan that includes nutrient-rich dairy foods. Here are some delicious kid friendly breakfast recipes to spark taste buds and minds.