Does Eating Breakfast Affect Students’ Performance?

Source: Vaisman N, et al. Effect of breakfast timing on the cognitive functions of elementary school students. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 1996;150:1089-1092.

Many of us have grown up being told by our mothers and grandmothers that "breakfast is the most important meal of the day." This concept was enacted into national policy as The School Breakfast Program by the U.S. Congress in 1996. However, the importance of breakfast in improving the academic performance of school children has not been universally accepted. Vaisman and associates from the Hadassah Medical School in Israel investigated whether children who eat breakfast perform better on tests of short-term cognitive function than those who do not eat breakfast. They studied more than 500 elementary school children aged 11-13 years. Subjects were tested twice by a standard cognitive test, the Rey Auditory-Verbal Learning test. At the first test, the children were questioned about whether they had breakfast that morning and to specifically list what they had eaten. After the first testing, two-thirds of the children were randomly assigned to receive, upon arrival at school in the morning, a bowl of sugared corn flakes with milk. These subjects were instructed not to eat breakfast at home. The other one-third of children received no instructions about breakfast.

After 14 days, all subjects were tested with an alternative version of the Rey Test. They also were asked whether they had eaten breakfast that morning.

At the time of the first testing, 77% of the children had eaten breakfast. Most of the test scores of the children who had eaten breakfast 1.5-2.0 hours before testing were not different than those of the children who did not eat breakfast that day.

In the second phase of the study, the children who had eaten a sugared cornflake breakfast at school shortly before cognitive testing scored better in almost all scores than those who ate breakfast at home or did not eat any breakfast.

The authors believe that these results suggest that consumption of carbohydrate-rich food shortly before cognitive testing improves performance and cite other studies showing the same kinds of results following mid-morning orange juice feeding.1

The authors attributed the improvement in test score to increased blood glucose levels associated with recent carbohydrate ingestion. This suggests that meal content and timing are important in the effects on test performance that they observe. —hap


1. Pollet E, et al. Educational benefits of the United states school feeding program: A critical review of the literature. Am J Pub Health 1978;68:477-481.