Better breakfast, better grades

Study shows low-income students in schools that offer free breakfasts perform better than in those schools that don’t

A new study from the University of Iowa reinforces the connection between good nutrition and good grades, finding that free school breakfasts help students from low-income families perform better academically.

The study finds 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,” says researcher David Frisvold, assistant professor of economics in the Tippie College of Business.

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 thus 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 says.

Frisvold says 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.

Frisvold’s paper is published online, “Nutrition and Cognitive Achievement of the School Breakfast Program,”and will be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Public Economics.

5 COMMENTS

  1. With the preponderance of evidence suggesting that breakfast is consequential, the next question becomes compulsory: Does it matter what kind of breakfast we eat?

    The answer is: Yes.

    In the book “The Food is My Friend Diet” by auther and nutritionist Ruth Frechman, she says:”In general, a healthy breakfast contains protein, fruits, whole grains, or vegetables”. According to her you want to include foods from at least three of these groups.

    The portion sizes will depend on your age, activity, and diet goals, but as a general guideline your breakfast should be made up of about 25% protein, 25% carbohydrates, and 50% fruits and/or vegetables.

  2. I have read that the Food Research and Action Center found that students who eat a complete instead of partial breakfast work more quickly with fewer math and number errors than those who don’t. therefore Healthy eating can also contribute to better performance on vocabulary and visual skills tests. You can improve your recall, your test scores and your grades by eating a healthy breakfast every morning

  3. You can’t keep up with the work and tests if you aren’t in class every day. Getting adequate protein, vitamins and minerals from food can keep you from taking sick days and missing out on daily lessons. Eating a healthy breakfast makes you more likely to achieve your daily nutritional goals. This keeps your body strong and less likely to succumb to disease.

  4. Hi Patrick
    You would not notice the negative effect skipping breakfast would have on your health in short term, but it would definitely have an effect on the long term. I would advise that you start eating breakfast in the morning. Even something as small as a healthy cereal bar would do.

  5. I agree that we should be providing the less fortunate with food, but I have been skipping breakfast for quite a while now and I feel that it has no impact on my focus during the day. But it probably differs from one individual to another.

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