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School Nutrition » Breakfast for Learning

Breakfast for Learning

Recent scientific research on the link between children’s nutrition and academic performance.

Missing breakfast and experiencing hunger impair children
  • Children who skip breakfast are less able to distinguish among similar images, show increased errors, and have slower memory recall. (1)
  • Hungry children have lower math scores and are more likely to have to repeat a grade.(2)
  • Behavioral, emotional and academic problems are more prevalent among hungry children. (3)
  • Hungry children are more likely to be hyperactive, absent and tardy. (4)
Eating breakfast at school helps children perform better
  • Students who eat school breakfast at the start of the school day show a general increase in math and reading scores.(5)
  • Students who increase their participation in the school breakfast program improve their math grades.(6,7)
  • Children who eat a complete breakfast, versus a partial breakfast, make fewer mistakes and work faster in math and number checking tests.(8)
  • Schools that serve breakfast to all students in the classroom show increases in standardized test scores.(9)
  • Children who eat breakfast at school – closer to class and test-taking time – perform better on standardized tests than those who skip breakfast or eat breakfast at home.(10)
  • Providing breakfast to mildly undernourished students at school improves their speed and memory in cognitive tests.(11)
School breakfast improves student behavior and learning environments
  • Children who participate in school breakfast have lower rates of absence and tardiness.(12,13)
  • Students who increase their participation in school breakfast exhibit decreased behavioral and psychological problems.(14)
  • Students who eat breakfast before starting school have fewer discipline problems and visit school nurses’ offices less often. (15)
  • Schools that provide breakfast in the classroom to all students show decreases in tardiness and suspensions as well as improved learning environments.(16)
  • Schools that serve breakfast at no cost to all students report improvements in student behavior and attentiveness.(17)
  • Academic reviews of the scientific research on nutrition and learning There is a significant correlation between eating in the morning and test results, memory and verbal skills.(18)
  • Hungry children perform less well on standardized tests than non-hungry children do.(19)
  • Skipping breakfast interferes with students’ cognition and learning. (20)
What researchers say about school breakfast
  • “Students require nutrients and energy for concentration on academic tasks…. Breakfast can provide those nutritional necessities and prevent symptoms such as headache, fatigue, restlessness and sleepiness from competing with educational outcomes. We have perhaps always known that breakfast is the most important meal, especially for children, now we have the research to prove it.”(21)
  • “What we find particularly exciting is that this [school breakfast] is a relatively simple intervention that can significantly improve children’s academic performance and… well-being.”(22)
Endnotes
1 Pollitt E, Cueto S, Jacoby ER. “Fasting and Cognition in Well- and Undernourished Schoolchildren: A Review of Three Experimental Studies.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1998;67(4):779S- 784S.
2 Alaimo K, Olson CM, Frongillo EA Jr. “Food Insufficiency and American School-Aged Children’s Cognitive, Academic and Psychosocial Development.” Pediatrics 2001;108(1):44-53.
3 Kleinman RE, Murphy JM, Little M, Pagano M, Wehler CA, Regal K, Jellinek MS. “Hunger in Children in the United States: Potential Behavioral and Emotional Correlates.” Pediatrics 1998;101(1):E3.
4 Murphy JM, Wehler CA, Pagano ME, Little M, Kleinman RF, Jellinek MS. “Relationship Between Hunger and Psychosocial Functioning in Low-Income American Children.” Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 1998;37:163-170.
5 Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning. “School Breakfast Programs Energizing the Classroom.” Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning, Roseville, MN, 1998.
6 Murphy JM, Pagano M, Nachmani J, Sperling P, Kane S, Kleinman R. “The Relationship of School Breakfast to Psychosocial and Academic Functioning.” Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine 1998;152:899-907.
7 Murphy JM, Pagano ME, Patton K, Hall S, Marinaccio J, Kleinman R. “The Boston Public Schools Universal Breakfast Program; Final Evaluation Report.” Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, 2000.
8 Wyon D, Abrahamsson L, Jartelius M, Fletcher R. “An Experimental Study of the Effects of Energy Intake at Breakfast on the Test Performance of 10 Year-Old Children in School.” International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition 1997;48(1):5-12.
9 Murphy JM et. al. “Maryland Meals for Achievement Year III Final Report.” Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, 2001.
10 Vaisman N, Voet H, Akivis A, Vakil E. “Effects of Breakfast Timing on the Cognitive Functions of Elementary School Students.” Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine 1996 150:1089-1092.
11 Grantham-McGregor S, Chang S, Walker S. “Evaluation of School Feeding Programs: Some Jamaican Examples.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1998;67(4) 785S-789S.
12 Cook JT, Ohri-Vachaspati P, Kelly GL. “Evaluation of a Universally-Free School Breakfast Program Demonstration Project, Central Falls, Rhode Island.” Center on Hunger, Poverty and Nutrition Policy, Tufts University, Medford, MA, 1996.
13 Murphy JM, Pagano M, Bishop SJ. “Impact of a Universally Free, In-Classroom School Breakfast Program on Achievement; Results from the Abell Foundation’s Baltimore Breakfast Challenge Program.” Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, 2001.
14 Murphy, Pagano, Nachmani, Sperling, Kane, Kleinman, 1998.
15 Minnesota Department of Children and Learning, 1998.
16 Murphy JM et. al., 2001.
17 Murphy, Pagano, Patton, Hall, Marinaccio, Kleinman, 2000.
18 Pollitt E. “Does Breakfast Make a Difference in School?” Journal of The American Dietetic Association 1995;95(10):1134-39.
19 Center on Hunger, Poverty and Nutrition Policy. “Statement on The Link Between Nutrition and Cognitive Development in Children.” Center on Hunger, Poverty and Nutrition Policy, Tufts University, Medford, MA, 1998.
20 Pollitt E, Matthews R. “Breakfast and Cognition: An Integrative Summary.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1998;67(4):804S-813S.
21 Derelian D, Ph.D., R.D. Former President, American Dietetic Association. From “Better Breakfast, Better Learning.” California Department of Education, Sacramento, CA, 1994.
22 Murphy JM, Ed.D. Assistant Professor of Psychology, Harvard Medical School. From Murphy JM, Pagano M, Nachmani J, Sperling P, Kane S, Kleinman R,1998.