New research from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing has found that children who regularly have breakfast on a near-daily basis had significantly higher full scale, verbal, and performance IQ test scores.
In one of the first studies to examine IQ and breakfast consumption, researchers examined data from 1,269 children six years old in China, where breakfast is highly valued, and concluded that children who did not eat breakfast regularly had 5.58 points lower verbal, 2.50 points lower performance, and 4.6 points lower total IQ scores than children who often or always ate breakfast after adjusting for seven sociodemographic confounders.
"Childhood is a critical period in which dietary and lifestyle patterns are initiated, and these habits can have important immediate and long-term implications," said lead author Jianghong-Liu, PhD, RN, FAAN, associate professor at Penn Nursing. "Breakfast habits appear to be no exception, and irregular breakfast eating has already been associated with a number of unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, frequent alcohol use, and infrequent exercise."
At age 6, a child's cognitive ability as both the verbal and performance levels is rapidly developing. Both the nutritional and social aspects of breakfast play a role. After a whole night of fasting, breakfast serves as a means to supply "fuel" to the brain. Meanwhile, social interaction at breakfast time with parents may promote brain development. Mealtime discussions may facilitate cognitive development by offering children the opportunity to expand their vocabulary, practice synthesizing and comprehending stories, and acquire general knowledge, noted the authors.
The researchers suggest that schools play a role in stressing the importance of eating breakfast by delaying start times and/or providing breakfast to allow students to profit from the cognitive benefits of eating before a morning curriculum.
"Because adequate nutrition in early childhood has been linked to increased IQ through childhood, which is related to decreased childhood behavioral disorders, better career satisfaction, and socioeconomic success in adults, breakfast consumption could ultimately benefit long-term physical and mental health outcomes as well a quality of life," said Dr. Liu. "These findings may reflect nutritional as well as social benefits of breakfast consumption on children and hold important public health implications regarding regular breakfast consumption in early young children.
This study was based on data collected from the China Jintan Child Cohort Study, led by Dr. Liu, an on-going prospective longitudinal study with the main aim of assessing the early health risk factors for the development of child neurobehavioral outcomes. The study was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
The University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing is one of the premier research institutions in nursing, producing new knowledge in geriatrics, pediatrics, oncology, quality-of-life choices, and other areas. Researchers here consistently receive more research funding from the National Institutes of Health than any other private nursing school, and many Master's programs are ranked first in the country.
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