One More Reason to Celebrate School Breakfast

March 24, 2016

Earlier this month Camellia Patey, RDN, LDN, SNS gave us several great reasons for Celebrating School Breakfast during School Breakfast Week. Topping the list is the good news that more low-income children are eating breakfast at school -- partly due to the adoption of the Community Eligibility Provision that allows schools in high-poverty areas to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students.

Previous research has taught us that eating breakfast, when compared to breakfast skipping, may have benefits for children including its association with improved academic performance (perhaps due to better school attendance), diet quality, and decreased likelihood of being overweight or obese. Children from food insecure households are most at risk for missing this important meal.

But some have questioned whether offering free breakfast to every child may have the unintended consequences of overeating and weight gain – especially because it has been reported that some children eat breakfast at home, then eat breakfast again at school. A new two-year longitudinal study tracked weight change in middle school students, including those who ate double breakfasts, who attended 12 schools in a diverse low-income urban school district where breakfast and lunch was provided at no cost.

“Our study does not support those concerns,” said Jeannette Ickovics, the paper’s senior author from Yale School of Public Health, told Yale News. “Providing a healthy breakfast to students at school helps alleviate food insecurity and is associated with students maintaining a healthy weight.”

Researchers tracked the students’ breakfast-eating locations and patterns, and their weight over a two-year period from 5th grade in 2011-2012 to 7th grade in 2013-2014.

Specifically, the study found that:

  • Students who skipped or ate breakfast inconsistently were more than twice as likely to be overweight or obese compared with students who ate double breakfasts.
  • The weight changes from 5th to 7th grade for the students who ate double breakfasts were no different than the weight changes measured for all of the other students.

It’s important to note that these data are observational only, and do not prove that skipping breakfast causes weight gain. In fact, available evidence from randomized controlled trials on breakfast and weight have failed to draw a causal connection between breakfast skipping and obesity. More research is needed to better understand the link between morning meals, caloric intake and weight, the authors say.

But other good reasons for children to eat a nutritious breakfast at home or at school are its positive associations with nutrient adequacy and increased school attendance, which has been associated with academic achievement.  

Children can get a nutrient-rich breakfast at school that includes a serving of dairy foods. Although the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Healthy U.S. Style eating pattern recommends 2.5 servings (cup-equivalents) of low-fat and fat-free dairy foods (milk, yogurt and cheese) for children 4-8 years and 3 servings for those over age 9, many children and teens in the U.S. fall short of meeting dairy food group recommendations. You can find more information about how nutrition helps support children’s cognitive function, learning and development here