skipping breakfast

A recent Australian study reported in BMC Nutrition examines the effect of skipping breakfast on children’s academic performance two years later.

It is a common belief that skipping breakfast results in lower academic performance for students. In fact, studies have shown this association in the short term. Thus, some countries have considered creating school breakfast programs despite their high cost.  Little is known, however, about the long-term effects of skipping breakfast on academic performance.  To provide some perspective on this issue, in a study cited in BMC Nutrition, Australian researchers examined a group of children at age 8-9 years, to see if their skipping breakfast resulted in poorer academic performance two years later.

Skipping Breakfast and Academic Results Two Years Later

The children in this study were recruited from an earlier study in 2004 called Growing up in Australia: the Longitidinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC).  At the beginning of the study, researchers collected data about the children in 2008 via a home visit followed by two written questionnaires completed by the child’s parents.  If a child skipped breakfast on either of the day of the home visit or on a pre-specified weekday or weekend day on the following week, they were classified as breakfast skippers.

Each child’s teacher completed a questionnaire about the child’s academic performance (reading, mathematics, and overall progress compared to other children at the same level) and classroom behaviour (Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire), both in 2008 and in 2010.  As well, each child’s performance on Australia’s standard school assessment called the National Assessment Program-Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) was noted in the year that they took it. There were 2,280 children monitored in the study.

Teachers’ Reports vs Standardized Test Scores

The following results were reported in this study:

  1. Children who skipped breakfast at age 8-9 years had poorer teacher-reported academic performance than non-skippers.
  2. The difference in performance on standardized tests was marginal between breakfast skippers and non-skippers.
  3. There was no relationship found between skipping breakfast and classroom behaviour.

Limitations: Potential Reporting Inaccuracies

The study authors also noted the following limitations of their study:

  1. The number of children who were skipping breakfast was low. Thus, the results of this study may not be applicable to the student population in general.
  2. The study did not account for any changes in breakfast-skipping behaviour by individual children in the two years since 2008. It is possible that some children may have stopped skipping breakfast in the interim, while others may have started skipping breakfast.
  3. Parents, for a variety of reasons, may have misreported their child’s breakfast-skipping behaviour.
  4. The quality of the breakfast eaten by each child was not noted.

School Breakfast Programs May Not Provide a Significant Return

School breakfast programs may not improve the academic performance of a student population as a whole. These results will need to be confirmed in a population with a larger proportion of students skipping breakfast. As well, in assessing the effectiveness of eating breakfast, future studies should rely more on standardized test results, rather than relying on teacher-reported perceptions.

Written by Raymond Quan, MASc, MBA

Reference: Smith, K.J., Blizzard, L., McNaughton, S.A., Gall, S.L., Breslin, M.C., Wake, M., and Venn, A.J., “Skipping breakfast among eight-to-nine-year-old children is associated with teacher-reported but not objectively measured academic performance two years later” BMC Nutrition (2017) 3:86

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