Cereal eaters get more vitamins, minerals and fiber. They eat less fat and are less depressed, stressed and tend to be smarter than those who do not eat breakfast. Studies funded by the cereal industry listed benefits from eating breakfast. One of these was that student cereal-eaters got higher reading marks and had better mental health. Evidence showed that those with higher incomes and education levels have healthier breakfasts than those with less incomes and lower education levels. Cereals are not only low in fat and high in fiber but are fortified in vitamins and minerals. They make healthier diets and because cereals are most often eaten with milk (Liebman).
Sufficient attention span is necessary for learning. Learning is a body and mind activity. The body, in turn, needs adequate and regular nourishment for proper brain function. A full day's diet is, hence, a basic requirement for the attention span needed for learning tasks in the classroom. And of the three meals, breakfast is the most important, as it is the first source of nourishment for each day.
A 1994-1996 survey showed that the diet of 88% of children aged 6-18 was poor or needed improvement (Basiotis 1999). The School Breakfast Program or SBP responded to this trend and offered nutritious breakfast to students of participating schools. A study was later conducted to evaluate the quality of these students' breakfast in relation to their overall diet after their participation in the Program. These children belonged to low-income households, which were qualified for a free or reduced price school breakfast or lunch. Data were gathered to evaluate the effects of the Program on 1,295 participating children (Basiotis).
The HEI consisted of 5 components, which graded the degree to which a particular diet conformed to the Food Guide Pyramid enforced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (Basiotis 1999). The major food groups are grains, vegetables, fruits, milk and meat. Four of the 5 components measured compliance with the recommended amounts of total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium intake. The last component measured the extent of variety. The study found that 67% of children in low-income households ate breakfast at home or in restaurants; 19% in school; and 14% did not eat breakfast. Of those who belonged to higher-income households, 82% ate breakfast at home or some place; 16% had no breakfast; and 2% ate in school. Those from both low and high-income households who ate breakfast showed a higher HEI rating than those who did not. Evaluation showed that all the children in both groups needed improvement in their diet. Other factors were considered as affecting schoolchildren's diet other than eating breakfast. These included household characteristics and the child's characteristics. The household income, size, the region and the household's participation in food stamp programs counted. The child's age, gender, race, ethnic origin, vitamin and mineral consumption, health condition or status, and the type of diet he or she had. The overall conclusion was that children from both low-income and higher-income households who ate breakfast had a better diet. Those who ate breakfast in school had an even better overall diet. Breakfast in school scored better in the consumption of fruits and milk and had greater variety. This study emphasized the important contribution of eating breakfast to the quality of the overall diet of American schoolchildren (Basiotis).
Evidence has established at least three essential facts about eating breakfast. One is that it is central to nutritional well-being (Shaw 1998). Another is that the habitual absence or skipping of breakfast can produce harmful effects on schoolchildren's cognitive functioning and attention span. And a third fact is that skipping breakfast can indicate an eating disorder. Those who skipped breakfast were less energetic and tended to consume more high-fat snacks and develop higher cholesterol levels than those who regularly ate breakfast. Hungry children were also found to unenthusiastic, inattentive and distracted. They tended to withdraw from discussion, play, exploration and social interaction. Evidence exists that hunger in the morning from a lack of breakfast can affect school performance. Other studies showed that a lack of breakfast reduced a student's capability to learn or perform arithmetic or reading exercises and physical activities in class. Children who regularly ate breakfast had fewer errors in the conduct of continuous tasks and performed better in arithmetic than those who did not. Researchers discovered that missing breakfast stunted schoolchildren, affected their cognitive functioning or led to malnutrition. Regular breakfast was likewise associated with long health and life, listed as one of the seven healthy habits. The Alameda County Study discovered that those who ate breakfast regularly tended to have lower morality rates. Eating breakfast regularly was, therefore, credited for a number of benefits. It is a healthy habit, which is worth forming early in life and maintaining through adulthood (Shaw).
Skipping breakfast by students is an issue of concern. A series of studies on North American students who skipped breakfast revealed that as high as 38% of poor and rural children in grades 7 and 8 skipped breakfast (Shaw 1998). A study on the prevalence of the habit among children of low socioeconomic groups in Brisbane, Australia was among the few conducted on the topic. The 1987 National Medical Expenditure survey worked with a sample of 6,722 American children, aged 5 to 17. It found that one in every five skipped breakfast. These skippers were mostly female, teenagers, and with low level of education or had race differences. Other skippers in the sample group were older children and those belonging to low-income families. Poverty as a factor was the focus of a number of feeding programs in the U.S. And Canada in addressing the effects of hunger on learning. One such intervention was the School Breakfast Program in the U.S. It provided free or subsidized breakfast to children from low-income families. Outcomes showed that the Program enhanced nutrient intake and improvement in students' standardized test scores. It also reduced the rate of absenteeism and tardiness in class. There were, however, few community-based breakfast programs in Australia and none at all in Brisbane (Shaw).
Some children skipped breakfast when they ate alone, had to prepare it themselves, poverty, a lack of time or because breakfast food was not appealing (Shaw 1998). Some said they were not hungry, were on a diet to lose weight or they did not feel good. These reasons and the seriousness of the issue led to the investigation of a sample group at the Mater Hospital University of Queensland Study of Pregnancy. Its respondents were 8,556 pregnant women and it had six phases. The respondents were interviewed during their first clinic visit, 3 and 5 days after delivery and answered questionnaires when they were already home and when the child was five years old. A follow-up was conducted when the child was 13 years old. It had a high 70% participation of the original sample group. The mother answered the questionnaire on education and race and the 13-year-old child answered the questionnaire on food and eating habits. A year later, telephone follow-ups secured supplementary data from the participants. The 82 who reported as missing breakfast was the sample group for the follow-up survey (Shaw).
The factors, which surfaced as affecting the habit of skipping breakfast, were income, education and gender (Shaw 1998). The majority in the sample group had incomes, which ranged from low at $399 or less to average-to-high at $400 or higher per week. The typical mother completed only a compulsory education or less at age 16. The outstanding or only statistically significant socio-demographic factor was gender. It said that females missed or skipped breakfast thrice as much as males. These female breakfast skippers also tended to skip lunch, as many of them would be on a diet to lose weight. Male and female skippers comparatively saw themselves as overweight. But female skippers tended to be more dissatisfied with their body shape and wanted to be smaller. On the other hand, male skippers wanted to be larger. The female respondents regarded missing breakfast as contributing to the body shape they desired. The male skippers did not link or associate skipping breakfast with anything related to their health or attitudes. Males did not resort to dieting by missing meals (Shaw).
After a year, an initial review was conducted on why these respondents skipped breakfast (Shaw 1998). Of the 56 who were interviewed, 27% seldom or never ate breakfast, 16% only did so sometimes, and 57% never did. Primarily, breakfast was skipped for lack of time in the morning and this constituted 52%. Typical responses ranged from not having the time by 35 of them, 40 did not feel hungry in the morning, 20% did not like to eat in the morning, 10 did not like the breakfast food available and 9 did not feel good enough to eat breakfast. From this number, 8 skipped breakfast in order to lose weight, 3 said they were on a diet and 3…