Parents may want to practice having more breakfast time if they want to give their child a cognitive boost in their education. This is the conclusion researchers from Cardiff University’s Center for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement (DECIPher) came to after studying the effects of children’s breakfast eating habits on their educational performance.

"While breakfast consumption has been consistently associated with general health outcomes, measures of concentration, and cognitive function, evidence regarding links to concrete educational outcomes has until now been unclear," said the study’s lead author Hannah Littlecott, a researcher from Cardiff University’s DECIPher, in a press release. "Links between aspects of what pupils eat and how well they do at school has significant implications for education and public health policy."

For the study, which was published in the journal Public Health Nutrition, Littlecott and her team examined 5,000 students aged 9 to 11 from more than 100 primary schools. They asked students what they ate over the last 24 hours (this included two days’ worth of breakfast) and then compared their diet with teacher assessments of the students. When they analyzed the data, researchers found a pattern emerge among breakfast eaters.

Students who ate breakfast were twice as likely to have above average educational performance when compared to students who didn’t eat breakfast. There also wasn’t any positive effect on education among kids who ate unhealthy foods, like candy or chips, for breakfast — one of every five kids fell into this category.

"For schools, dedicating time and resource toward improving child health can be seen as an unwelcome diversion from their core business of educating pupils, in part due to pressures that place the focus on solely driving up educational attainment," Littlecott said. "But this resistance to delivery of health improvement interventions overlooks the clear synergy between health and education. Clearly, embedding health improvements into the core business of the school might also deliver educational improvements as well."

The research supports a growing body of evidence that links a healthy diet to improved cognitive ability. Childhood is a critical time of mental and physical growth for students as well, and children with inadequate intake of nutrients are prone to the significant short- and long-term impacts of disease. Meanwhile iodine deficiency, which can be addressed by regularly consuming turkey, seafood, or milk, has been linked with hyperactivity disorder in children. If schools invest in improving children’s diet, experts argue the effects will go beyond just their immediate health, affecting long-term life achievement as well.

"Linking our data to real world educational performance data has allowed us to provide robust evidence of a link between eating breakfast and doing well at school," said the study’s co-author Dr. Graham Moore, a public health research fellow at Cardiff University, in a press release. "There is therefore good reason to believe that where schools are able to find ways of encouraging those young people who don't eat breakfast at home to eat a school breakfast, they will reap significant educational benefits."

Source: Littlecott HJ, Moore GF, Moore L, Lyons RA, and Murphy S. Association between breakfast consumption and educational outcomes in 9-11-year-old children. Public Health Nutrition. 2015.