A new review on the importance of breakfast for health and educational attainment in school-aged children, written by the British Nutrition Foundation and supported by the charity Magic Breakfast was published on 21st November 2023.
This is a summary of the most important findings for the education sector. A pdf of this document is available to download below.
What do the findings mean for schools?
We encourage all schools to consider including breakfast provision as part of a whole school approach to healthy eating.
Healthy breakfasts can help children get the nutrients they need for growth and development, reduce hunger and support learning, especially for the most vulnerable
- Skipping breakfast is widespread in school-aged children. It is higher in teenagers, especially girls, and children from low-income households.
- Regularly missing out on breakfast can make it harder for children to get enough of the nutrients they need to be healthy and to learn.
- Free school breakfast provision could help reduce hunger and may help to address educational inequalities for the most vulnerable young people.
- Breakfast provision should be part of a whole school approach to healthy eating.
The contribution of breakfast to health and educational outcomes
Evidence suggests that children and young people who regularly eat breakfast are likely to have better nutrient intakes and dietary patterns than those who regularly skip breakfast. Healthier breakfast foods such as lower sugar wholegrain breakfast cereals, wholewheat bread, nut butters, milk and lower sugar dairy foods, eggs and beans can be important providers of essential nutrients (e.g. fibre, calcium, iodine, iron).
Breakfast skipping is common and if children continuously miss out on a nutritious breakfast, they may find it more difficult to get enough of the key nutrients that support healthy growth and development as well as cognitive function. For many, particularly those from food-insecure households, breakfast will provide the energy they need for the day ahead and help alleviate feelings of hunger that might affect children’s ability to process information and learn.
Although there are inconsistencies and limitations within the evidence base, the review suggests a positive effect of breakfast on diet quality, weight status and school-related outcomes. Studies generally support the potential of breakfast to lower hunger and improve short-term learning, although the effects may be small, and more research is needed on longer term outcomes.
The role of school breakfast in reducing educational and health inequalities
There are reports of a growing number of pupils arriving at school tired, cold and hungry. Free universal school breakfast provision can help to reduce hunger, especially for children and young people in food insecure households, helping them to concentrate and learn.
Breakfast provision should be part of a whole school approach to healthy eating and has the potential to provide a nutritional safety net, helping reduce health inequalities for children and young people.
Increasing uptake and ensuring healthy breakfasts in schools
Many schools offer breakfast clubs as an integral part of the school system. Breakfast clubs can help support the development of healthy eating habits, improve nutritional intakes, increase attendance, and provide the opportunity for social interaction. They also offer support for parents, particularly those who work and rely on these as a means of affordable and reliable childcare.
School food standards lay out guidelines for foods and drinks served throughout the school day and these should ensure good nutritional quality of the breakfasts provided. However, data on compliance is lacking. To increase participation and reach the most vulnerable, more inclusive, and non-stigmatising delivery models, such as universal free breakfasts, are preferable.
Secondary schools, where participation in school breakfast provision is lower, may particularly benefit from more inclusive and accessible options for their pupils. Schools may need support in implementing different models to deliver this such as grab and go options or breakfast in the classroom.
Evaluation of school breakfast provision
Although survey and anecdotal data on the benefits of school breakfast clubs are available, there is a lack of good quality studies demonstrating their role in health and educational outcomes in the UK.
Longer-term studies would be helpful to understand their benefit more fully on outcomes of interest (including the cost-benefit), and to ensure newer models of delivery do not have any unintended consequences and are reaching children most in need.
Help us improve
We'd love to hear your thoughts about this page below.
If you have a more general query, please contact us.
Please note that advice provided on our website about nutrition and health is general in nature. We do not provide any personal advice on prevention, treatment and management for patients or their family members.