Have you had your Weetabix?!

27 Jan

Breakfast, for several reasons, is often referred to as the most important meal of the day. According to William Cochran, breakfast sets the body up for the day ahead, yet he describes how 8-12% of children skip breakfast. There are a variety of reasons for why children skip breakfast despite positive ramifications eating breakfast has on academic performance.

Children who eat breakfast have been found to have improved learning skills compared to those who skip breakfast. In 1998, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital reported children who ate breakfast received higher maths scores, had better attendance to school, and experienced less hyperactivity and fatigue than those who didn’t eat breakfast. Research has also shown that children are less likely to receive detention or suspension once a routine of eating breakfast regularly has been established. If a child does not have breakfast, they are often going 10-12 hours without food, if not more, meaning they are having no input of energy. Energy is required for an individual to learn, “to fuel the brain”. Good nutritional breakfast foods allow an individual to focus, think clearly, and maintain energy throughout the day. When a child experiences hunger, their energy levels decrease and are less motivated to attend to the lesson being taught. A systematic review by Hoyland, Dye and Lawton (2009) on 45 studies concluded that the consumption of breakfast has a beneficial influence on a child’s cognitive performance.

Years of consistent research led to public health bodies instigating breakfast programmes throughout many school, in many countries. In one programme, principles of the schools where a programme was hosted, 97% believed that their school benefited from the programme. In 2004, the Welsh Assembly Government began a free breakfast programme and by 2010, it was introduced into its 1000th school. The aim of the programme was to ensure that children from low economic backgrounds were fed, enabling them to have the best possible start to their day. So why would the Conservative Party want to get rid of such an excellent and beneficial programme? The Conservative education spokesman has said that feeding breakfast to a child is the “responsibility of parents” (BBC News). In my opinion this is to an extent correct, but if financial constraints stop a child from having breakfast does that mean they are not entitled to concentrate in school, to not be able to concentrate and obtain their potential. The free breakfast programme in Wales provides that little extra support to parents and children who are living in poverty. Perhaps developing a scheme with breakfast like they have for lunchtime, where children receive help towards food costs depending on your personal circumstances.

I personally love cereal and have it everyday, if I don’t I can tell within an hour of being up, I am hungry, tired and can’t concentrate on anything.

Imagine what we could all have achieved academically if we all ate breakfast throughout our whole time in academia… the competition for University places would certainly increase!!


12 Responses to “Have you had your Weetabix?!”

  1. elburns January 27, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    I found an interesting statistic that found only around 10-30% of individuals do not have breakfast (Rampersaud et al, 2005). Which when you consider it; appears relatively low. I personally have looked over several of these studies which you have suggested and no where can I see anything other than cereal or porridge being used a tester for breakfast. It makes me wonder is there a difference the effect cereal versus toast has on cognitive function. Health risks asside dare I say a bacon sandwich can stimulate cognition and many benefits as well as cereal or is the health benefits of cereal the contributing factor to the increase in our cognition.
    Are we hear looking at a confound of what children eat at breakfast or the idea of breakfast itself which contributes to aiding our cognitions.
    I would love to hear your thoughts on this, or if you could point out some studies which measure breakfast habits opposed to giving them cereal?


    • Declan McClelland January 29, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

      Hi Liz, your reply raised an interesting question about how the nutritional content of breakfast affects cognition.

      Fischer et al. (2002) investigated how the ratio of protein to carbohydrate affects cognitive performance in the morning.They found that individuals who consumed a protein rich breakfast showed more accurate short-term memory than individuals who consumed a balanced or carb rich breakfast.

      Participants who consumed a carb rich breakfast also showed improved attention and decision times, but only for the first hour. After this first hour, improved performance was seen in those who consumed either balanced or protein rich breakfasts.

      This is because more balanced or protein rich breakfasts results in more balanced regulation of glucose metabolism, even though carbohydrate rich food can increase cognitive performance in the short term (due to rapid glucose release).

      Most cereals (by definition) are high GI, and so release their energy quickly – and leave you feeling hungrier sooner. (Veldhorst et al, 2009). In fact, the most beneficial food most people consume in the morning is the milk they pour of top of their cereal. For example, if you pour 125ml of milk over 30g of corn flakes (as the side of this packet I’m holding in front of me recommends), there’s double the amount of protein in the milk than in the cereal!

      Egg, Cheese, Milk, or Low GI carbs like oats are much better alternatives to cereal. In fact, a study by Mahoney et al. (2005) shows that children who switch from a ready to eat cereal (high GI) to instant oatmeal (low GI), show marked improvements in cognition. Therefore, these are the kinds of foods kids should be consuming to improve their performance in schools. (Although a bacon sandwich every once in a while is fine too :D)




  2. sophmoss January 27, 2012 at 2:30 pm #

    I think your breakfast discussion holds many good points. Your research from Hoyland, Dye and Lawton (2009) also raises the point of lack of evidence concerning breakfast type, which I think is important too considering not everyone eats cereal in the mornings. Also, there is a suggestion in this paper that the breakfast programs in schools may be increasing school attendance and it is this factor that influences academic performance, rather than breakfast alone.
    I found an interesting study that looked at adolescent and adult breakfast eating behaviours which showed “Parental breakfast eating was the statistically most significant factor associated with adolescent breakfast eating” (Keski-Rahkonen at al, 2003).
    So, perhaps there is much more research needed to provide us with the conclusions for academic performance with breakfast type and age related factors, as well as the breakfast clubs in school that may just be encouraging school attendance without the actual breakfast having an impact?


  3. Declan McClelland January 29, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

    Like you, I believe breakfast is a very important meal. I personally don’t feel the day has begun until I’ve had something to eat!

    The evidence is conclusive that breakfast is beneficial to school-children. In my reply to Liz, you’ll see that research also shows that the type of breakfast children eat is important.

    My breakfast of choice is instant oats with milk, made in the microwave. Because it’s low GI, it keeps me fuller for longer than cereals. Mahoney et al (2005) showed that replacing high GI cereals with low GI oats has numerous cognitive benefits for school children (and me, I hope!), including better spatial memory, short term memory, and auditory attention.

    While I was trying to decide how I felt about this issue, I decided to work out how much my breakfast costs each morning. The total for the milk and oats per serving came to 26p.

    Low-income families generally receive benefits and tax credits for each child that they have. The money they receive (from the tax-payer) is enough to cover the daily cost of breakfast. Although I can see that children would benefit from free breakfasts at school, I’m afraid I agree with the governments stand-point that the responsibility to provide the child with breakfast is the parents responsibility. Your thoughts?

  4. psua4e January 29, 2012 at 9:37 pm #

    Although I do agree that a healthy breakfast has its cognitive benefits that enhance our performance throughout the day, I have to say that I agree with Declands comment. School budgets are constantly being cut, the following BBC article states that Education spending in England could be cut by as much as 25% over the next four years.

    Furthermore, Classroom sizes are increasing, currently, the number of students per classroom is being aimed to be reduced to 32 students!!! And 20 students for important classes such as English and maths! This is a massive number! If these financial restrictions are in place, would spending what money is available on teaching be more beneficial, especially due to the demands of large classroom sizes.
    And if a healthy breakfast costs as little as 26p per student, surely the parents would be able to cover this cost. If not, the government could look into a strategy that pays parents the amount of money that this breakfast would cost per week. This way, students are still able to get a healthy kickstart to their day, without the school having to spend money contributing to staff, ingredients and resources.

    Government approves plan to reduce number or students per classroom; http://www.haaretz.com/news/gov-t-approves-plan-to-reduce-number-of-students-per-classroom-1.238020

  5. hannahphair January 30, 2012 at 2:42 pm #

    This discussion has raised some valid health points gained by having breakfast, resulting in an individual’s performance reaching an adequate level. Wesnes (2003) discovered, skipping breakfast has an affect on children’s episodic memory and attention throughout the day. As in most cases, the last time an individual gained energy was 12 hours ago and so it is of upmost importance for an individual to ‘refuel their brain’.
    However, in my opinion, I think there is a contributing factor that the Welsh Assembly government recognised by introducing the free breakfast scheme; this factor would be a morning routine for every child. Although physical food supports physiological systems (i.e providing energy), a morning routine can set up a child’s day. If their routine is structured and a calming environment is withstood, the influence on the child could only be beneficial. Clarke, Dunlap and Vaughn (1999), created an intervention for a boy with Asperger’s syndrome. This intervention consisted of a structured routine starting from when the boy woke to when he left the breakfast table for school. His in-class behaviour was seen to improve. Interestingly, as the intervention carried on, the boy also completed his structured routine quicker, suggesting it became habit. And so, this leads me to the question similar to ‘elburns’, do you think if having breakfast were to become a habit in children’s routine (those children being previous breakfast skippers), the problems within class and a child’s personal progress would be seen to improve?

  6. cassharp January 31, 2012 at 9:39 pm #

    I do agree with you all about the varying effects different breakfasts can have on our performance, it is also unclear to whether the benefits we seeing are a result of actually eating breakfast or if it is a meal containing a breakfast cereal (Gibson & Gum, 2011). Evidence has been found that an individuals’ performance and mood can be increased by eating breakfast, although yes the results have varied with the benefits as a consequence of the nutritional values of the breakfast (Belliese, 2009).

    Gibson and Gum (2011) investigated adult’s aged 19 – 64 and found a slightly higher energy intake associated with cereal eaters compared to non-cereal eaters. They found that on the whole eating breakfast was connected with consuming greater quantity of carbohydrates and less fat in comparison to individuals who skipped breakfast, over a twenty-four hour period.

    With regards to the comments above as to is it just cereal that makes a difference, well yes mainly. In the Gibson and Gum (2011) study, they referred to cereal as porridge and ready-to-eat cereals and that were usually eaten with milk. The study found that micronutrient intake was higher on occasions when cereal was eaten (30-90%) and only a slight difference was found between non-cereal breakfasts and breakfast skippers. So, eating something is good to establish a routine and to promote a healthy lifestyle, but to get the best out of having breakfast, cereal would be recommended.

  7. cassharp February 1, 2012 at 1:08 am #

    With regards to the comment of Elburns of 10-30% of children not eating breakfast as “relatively low”, the paper that you found this statistic believes that this number of breakfast skippers is high. This is up to a third of children in the US and Europe who do not eat breakfast… What they are missing could be invaluable to them for succeeding in the future. I do however agree with your question about the impact different food for breakfast has on cognitive performance. I touched upon this on my comment above, yes cereals (including porridges) are generally found to be the best. Parents should focus on providing their children with healthful breakfast with a range of foods particularly high fibre and nutrient-rich whole grain, dairy products and fruits.

    In reference to Declans’ comment, I read the Mahoney et al., (2005) paper that you referred to and I agree with what you said about oats (porridge) having a greater effect on cognitive performance then general cereals, which is making me wonder why the Welsh Government chose to instigate toast into the breakfast program’s.

  8. cassharp February 1, 2012 at 1:08 am #

    The study by Keski-Roahkonen et al. (2003) referred to by Sophmoss, that parental eating of breakfast was found to be the most significant factor associated with whether adolescents ate breakfast or not, has been further supported by a systematic review by Pearson et al (2009) who concluded that the greatest quantity of evidence in relation to adolescents breakfast eating habits was parental breakfast consumption and with living in two-parent families. To improve adolescent eating habits parents need to act as positive role models by assessing their eating behaviours and realize the effect their behaviours has on their children.

    I wonder if teacher modelling has the same affect as parents, an individual they see as a role model, this could be something that is researched the difference between teacher and parent influence on breakfast habits.

  9. cassharp February 1, 2012 at 1:09 am #

    Re: psua4e

    Establishing a routine in children is very important not only for educational purposes but also for health reasons. The government may be cutting education budgets but they still have to put billions of pounds into the NHS to treat people who are overweight or obese. Research has shown that eating behaviours established during childhood continue through to adulthood. Children who are overweight are likely to stay overweight through to adulthood. If eating behaviours are not shaped in a healthy manner during childhood, the NHS budget will have to increase to be able to treat the increased overweight/obese patients. My point here is that you have to put in to get out… if using education budget to educate people about healthy eating is currently working then why change it. An international program called Food Dudes is now being run in schools across the world and have been finding brilliant results in transforming children’s eating behaviours by encouraging them to eat healthy foods in a school environment. School is where children go to learn… why should they not learn about healthy foods!

    Research has already implied that overweight/obese children are more susceptible to developing serious and chronic health problems as young adults. Experts are also speculating that if the current junk food epidemic continues, children could die before their parents as a result of their diet!

    My opinion is that education budget should be used to educate children about healthy eating and why eating breakfast is important… at the end of the day as children we can be given homework about geography and told to go find the answer on the internet… easily done! Do you remember being told why breakfast was important?! Did anyone explain the implications of not eating breakfast to you? My answer to this is no. I remember in school doing an experiment that showed fizzy drinks was not good for your teeth… okay maybe not quite the same as breakfast but both have positive or negative consequence.

  10. ouija board February 6, 2012 at 7:38 pm #

    The wild birds know bad weather is coming & they want instant energy- devouring the crushed peanuts & fat ball but leaving seed and oats


  1. cassharp - February 24, 2012

    […] my first blog, I discussed the academic performance benefits of eating breakfast. Now I would like you to […]

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