Breakfast for kids and academic performance: A closer look

Researchers delve deeper to find the true link between hunger and academic achievement

Many people probably know that it's hard for children to pay attention in school without eating breakfast. But now a team of researchers has found out why that is.

Researchers from Ohio State University took brain scans of students and found those who ate a nutritious breakfast and were physically active every day achieved higher test scores and had more focus in class.

"Hungry kids can't learn and we've known that for a long time," said Ohio State Professor Bob Murray, M.D. "But now we know why they are not learning and what areas of the brain are really hindering that."

The skippers

According to statistics, 62% of teenagers skip breakfast once a week.

And based on figures released by The Wellness Impact: Enhancing Academic Success Through Healthy School Environments, only 38% of teens eat breakfast every day.

Unfortunately, many schools don't offer breakfast because of budgetary cutbacks, but Duke Storen, director of Partner Impact at Share Our Strength says it's still the school's responsibility to provide certain meals.

Storen believes schools providing breakfast not only help kids in the classroom, but it will help them in adulthood as well.

"Schools play a critical role in ending childhood hunger by connecting kids with healthy meals that do much more than provide essential nutrition. They improve a student's ability to focus and thrive in the classroom," said Storen.

"For example, research shows that the seemingly simple act of ensuring that children get school breakfast offers the potential for students to experience greater academic achievement, increased job readiness and ultimately more economic prosperity for our nation. Stronger, better nourished kids mean a stronger America," he said.

The evidence

Share Our Strength revealed these statistics:

Kids who regularly ate breakfast attended school 1.5 more days than kids who didn't. And children who ate breakfast every morning scored 17.5% higher than children who didn't.

In a recent case study, researchers learned there are about 81,000 low-income elementary and middle school students in Maryland who receive lunch at school -- but not breakfast.

According to estimates, if Maryland schools gave breakfast to 70% of  these kids, 56,000 additional students could achieve math proficiency and 14,000 more students would graduate high school. And schools would see 84,890 fewer absences among students as well.

Physical activity a factor

But it's not just missing breakfast that causes students to lose focus. Missing recess is a part of it, too.

According to figures released by the National Center for Education Statistics, 7% of first-graders and 8% of third-graders never had recess.

In addition, 14% of first-graders and 15% of third graders had recess for only one to 15 minutes a day. And 20% of U.S. school systems have decreased recess time by an average of 50 minutes per week.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says teachers shouldn't take away recess for disciplinary reasons, because it's just too important.

"Recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child's development,"  said the Academy in a statement. "It should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons."

Sara Burie, an Exercise Physiologist at St. Mary's Hospital in Wisconsin says recess might be the only exercise kids are getting these days.

"I think that if you take away that recess, that's all the exercise activity they're going to get, especially with all the technology," she said in an interview with a local news outlet. "Kids especially just don't move anymore."

Cooperative effort

Recently, several organizations including the American Dairy Association Mideast and Ohio Action for Healthy Kids, hosted a statewide summit to discuss the link between nutrition, recess and academic performance.

Among the speakers was Audrey Rowe from the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service. Rowe said the USDA is doing its part to make sure more kids are getting healthy meals at school.

"USDA is focused on improving childhood nutrition through healthier school meals and greater access to school breakfast and summer meals," she said. "Through the leadership and hard work of Ohio Action for Healthy Kids, the American Dairy Association Mideast, Children's Hunger Alliance and our other dedicated partners, we are beginning to see progress and improvements in the health of our nation's children, ensuring that America's next generation is healthy, well-nourished and able to achieve great things."

According to a separate 2011 study, 17 million children in the U.S. don't have access to nutritious food, which is one child out of every four.

Story provided by ConsumerAffairs.
Consumer Affairs

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