Breakfast program boosts student brains, according to study

Carolyn Morris
Shine OnMay 14, 2012

Breakfast for the brain. A new evaluation of Toronto's school breakfast program shows a link between a morning meal and performance at school

"Providing students with a healthy breakfast every morning improved their academic performance, behaviour, attendance and health," says Sandra Best, a director of the Toronto Foundation for Student Success, which co-produced the study with the Toronto District School Board.

The research was an evaluation of Toronto's Feeding Our Future program, which began providing free morning meals to students in four Toronto middle schools and three Toronto high schools in 2008.

Also see: Mother's loving tribute to son born with bilateral cleft palate

The program was launched after the school board discovered that a majority of kids in Toronto's Jane and Finch neighbourhood were going to school daily on an empty stomach. With prior research showing that kids who get a good meal in the morning do better at school, the Toronto Foundation for Student Success got to work filling those stomachs.

The study evaluated the impact the breakfast program had on the health, behaviour and achievement of 6,000 students over a two-year period.

Interviews suggested that students improved their behaviour, were late less often, and more able to focus on their work. And researchers compared academic results of those who reported eating breakfast three or more times a week with those who didn't.

"We learned that there is a significant gap in learning, achievement and health between students who eat a healthy breakfast every day and those who do not," says Best. "Students who don't eat breakfast are twice as likely to be struggling in reading and twice as likely to be struggling in science."

They found that 78 per cent of breakfast-eating high school students were set to graduate, versus only 61 per cent of high school students who don't eat proper morning meals.

Also see: 'Social jetlag' sleep loss can cause unhealthy drinking, eating habits

But without a control group, these comparisons, while compelling, are not entirely convincing. It's hard to tell whether the results are caused by the morning meal, or by other potential factors.

For example, those who declined a free breakfast might also be more less likely to work on a homework assignment. Or perhaps kids who took a free breakfast did so because their parents emphasize the importance of breakfast -- which in turn, might indicate that their parents are more involved in their academic performance, pushing them to get good grades.

That said, denying children breakfast in the name of a good scientific control group might be a tad unethical.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Foundation for Student Success is hoping this research will help spread the word about the importance of food programs for students. If it helps more kids attain better results at school, hopefully that will translate to better jobs later on and a boost for the economy. Which would justify the expense of the programs.

"Student nutrition programs are under-funded," says Best. "There needs to be a larger, national conversation about their impact on long-term health care costs and the economy."

Watch the CBC news report on the Toronto study linking breakfast with academic success.

Try an award winning, multi-tasking cleanser.

Is your skin tired? Revitalize with Purity Made Simple. Gently cleanse and refresh in one simple step to get that clean and natural pure skin feel.

Your Dream Home Just Got Better

Parkside at Westphalia townhomes have an Upper Marlboro address near 495, a spa, sauna, game room, theater, pool, tennis courts and more. Low $300s.

M&M'S® 75th Anniversary

Catch The Latest M&M'S® Commercial Celebrating Our 75th Anniversary!

We believe that personalization matters.

See how 87% of participants increased their contribution rates, according to a recent study. (0915-899P)

Delta Reserve Credit Card

Get Miles & MQMs with Miles Boost™. Save 20% on in Flight Purchases. Terms Apply

Discover resort-style living in Warrenton

The Lakes at Brookside offers close-knit hometown living with Lakes, amenities & large yards right next to vibrant Vint Hill. From the $400s