Breakfast and Brains

Schools are key settings for improving young people’s health and wellbeing. Most young people spend a large proportion of their waking hours in schools, and there is growing evidence that school environments can directly improve, or harm, health outcomes for young people.

However, focusing on improving young people’s health is often perceived as conflicting with the “core business” of schools in achieving good educational outcomes for young people, and taking time and resource away from this primary task of schools.

However, is it really a zero sum game? Will devoting resources to supporting health really lead to declines in educational outcomes? Or are the two so intrinsically linked that improving health will benefit educational outcomes, and vice versa? Recent policy briefings and education reviews in the UK are beginning to emphasise the need to understand how health and education may come to be viewed as complementary rather than competing agendas.

A newly published longitudinal study has analysed links between pupils’ diets (including whether they eat breakfast, and the quality of foods eaten) and Summative Teacher Assessments (STAs), conducted 6 – 18 months after measurement. It found that eating breakfast was linked to the achievement of better scores. Whether pupils ate breakfast, and the quality of what they ate, were consistently associated with improved educational outcomes, after accounting for socioeconomic variables.

This paper represents a rare example of the linkage of data from health related surveys to standardised educational outcomes, and presents strong evidence that pupils’ diets are linked to their educational outcomes. As researchers interested in school health, we should link our data wherever possible to educational outcomes measures, to build up a body of evidence on how schools can simultaneously improve the health and educational outcomes of their pupils.

The article was published by the Public Health and Nutrition Journal of Cambridge University Press’ Cambridge Journal Online (CJO) and can be accessed via the following link.

For more information on the study, please contact Dr Graham Moore or Hannah Littlecott.

The study was funded via the National Preventive Research Initiative ( Funding from the British Heart Foundation; Cancer Research UK; Department of Health; Diabetes UK; Economic and Social Research Council; Medical Research Council; Research and Development Office for the Northern Ireland Health and Social Services; Chief Scientist Office, Scottish Executive Health Department; The Stroke Association; Welsh Government; and World Cancer Research Fund is gratefully acknowledged.

Image courtesy of sheesalt via Flickr Creative Commons.

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