A new study has revealed the effect that skipping breakfast has on children’s performance at school. Researchers at the University of Leeds have found that those who regularly fail to eat breakfast tend to leave school with lower GCSE grades than those who have their morning meal.
This is the first time that research has linked eating breakfast with GCSE performance in secondary school children.
Overall, the study found that the children who rarely ate breakfast left school with GCSEs an average of two grades lower than their counterparts who regularly had breakfast.
Dr Katie Adolphus, lead researcher on the study and part of the University of Leeds’ School of Psychology, said that the findings indicate many children are not getting the fuel they need for their brains at the start of the day.
She explained that this supports other research that has shown how eating breakfast has a “positive impact on children’s cognition”.
“The UK has a growing problem of food poverty, with an estimated half a million children arriving at school each day too hungry to learn,” Dr Adolphus stated.
She added: “This research suggests that poor nutrition is associated with worse results at school.”
The researchers looked at the GCSE results and breakfast habits of 294 pupils at schools and colleges in West Yorkshire. They found that nearly one-third (29 per cent) rarely or never ate breakfast on a school day. A further 18 per cent said that they occasionally ate breakfast.
Over half (53 per cent), however, reported eating breakfast frequently on school days. The university accounted for other factors, such as socio-economic status, age, ethnicity, sex and BMI when working out the difference in grades between those who regularly ate breakfast and those who rarely did.
They uncovered a points difference of 10.25, which equates to a difference of nearly two grades at GCSE level.
The findings from this study support calls for the government to expand its limited policy to provide free school breakfasts at state schools in the UK.
Charities Magic Breakfast and Family Action, both of which provide a breakfast programme that is funded by the Department of Education, have backed the study and its findings.
CEO of Magic Breakfast Alex Cunningham commented: “Education is crucial to a child’s future life success and escaping poverty, therefore ensuring every child has access to a healthy start to the day must be a priority.”
If your school is interested in introducing a breakfast service for pupils, you could get help from school meals catering companies to ensure that children receive a healthy meal that will get their day off to the right start.
In Wales, one charity is leading calls for the free school meals allowance to be increased by 80p because so many children are found to be going hungry at school.
TCC (Trefnu Cymunedol Cymru//Together Creating Communities) is calling on the Welsh government to step in after some teachers and other members of staff revealed that they’re spending their own money to buy food for hungry children.