From an energy and dietary perspective breakfast has often been touted as the most important meal of the day.
New research suggests the benefits of a good breakfast extend to the cognitive arena as investigators find a strong connection between good nutrition and good grades.
In the study, University of Iowa investigators discovered free school breakfasts help students from low-income families perform better academically.
Researchers found students who attend schools that participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s School Breakfast Program (SBP) have higher achievement scores in math, science, and reading than students in schools that don’t participate.
“These results suggest that the persistent exposure to the relatively more nutritious breakfast offered through the subsidized breakfast program throughout elementary school can yield important gains in achievement,” said researcher Dr. David Frisvold, an assistant professor of economics.
The federal government started the SBP for children from low-income families in 1966. The program is administered in coordination with state governments, many of which require local school districts to offer subsidized breakfasts if a certain percentage of their overall enrollment comes from families that meet income eligibility guidelines.
Frisvold conducted his study by examining academic performance from students in schools that are just below the threshold and thus not required to offer free breakfasts, and those that are just over it and do offer them.
He found the schools that offered free breakfasts showed significantly better academic performance than schools that did not, and that the impact was cumulative so that the longer the school participated in the SBP, the higher their achievement.
Math scores were about 25 percent higher at participating schools during a students’ elementary school tenure than would be expected otherwise. Reading and science scores showed similar gains, Frisvold said.
Frisvold said the study suggests subsidized breakfast programs are an effective tool to help elementary school students from low-income families achieve more in school and be better prepared for later life.