When your kids head off to school each morning, what is in their tummies? Cereal? Toast? Leftover pizza? Nothing? The answer to that question could make a difference to their future academic performance.
Results from a five-year longitudinal study of 800 students, by Professor Jenny O’Dea of Sydney University, were released this week, and the findings showed a clear correlation between the type of breakfast eaten and how well a child performed at school. According to Professor O’Dea, breakfast is strongly and consistently linked to children’s academic performance in primary and secondary school, independent of known predictors such as parental education and socio-economic status.
A healthy breakfast of cereal and milk led to the best literacy and numeracy results, followed by an adequate breakfast of toast. Students who skipped breakfast, or ate a breakfast that was poor in nutrients performed on average five points lower in NAPLAN results. Five points is a significant difference – it’s enough to boost a child who is below the national minimum standard into the minimum standard level, or a child who is at the minimum standard into a level above. Professor O’Dea described the findings as very concerning and a timely wake-up call to parents that their child’s schoolwork may suffer if they go to school hungry.
As a parent, the statistic that I found the most concerning in the report was the sheer number of children who are going to school without breakfast. In 2008, at the start of the study, approximately 2% of the surveyed students reported skipping breakfast and a further 3% had an inadequate breakfast; in 2011, the number of students skipping breakfast had risen to 7.8%, with a further 18% of students having an inadequate breakfast. “Inadequate”, by the way, consists of water, tea, coffee or soft drink. Soft drink? Inadequate? More like crap, methinks.
In response to the findings, Kellogg’s and Woolworths are running a month-long ‘Breakfast Crusade’. Running from now until Wednesday 19 September, Woolworths stores nationally are offering breakfast deals and Kellogg’s is donating free cereal to schools and local communities through their ‘Breakfast Buddies’ Program.
Personally I think the government, for whom school performance is very high on the agenda right now, could take it a step further though and make breakfast at school a normal part of the daily routine. Make it compulsory, to hopefully catch as many otherwise-hungry students as possible. Cost-wise, a bowl of cereal and milk each day would be a drop in the ocean of current schooling costs and if it even affected half of the 420,000 - I repeat, four hundred and twenty thousand – students who currently have an empty stomach at the start of the school day, then surely it would be worth it?
I think so, anyway. What do you think? Would you support a compulsory “breakfast at school” program for all kids?