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Breakfast matters, even if it’s just a doughnut

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2008 - Spring


Conventional wisdom took a recess when Howard Taras, M.D., told an audience at pediatric grand rounds in February about his research into the effects of nutrition on a child’s school performance.

Breakfast is important, said the professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego, but whether kids eat fruit or a doughnut doesn’t affect academic achievement. “For performance it doesn’t really make a difference,” he said, adding that “a student with poor nutritional intake at each breakfast is more likely to have fewer productive years in life with which to utilize his or her education.”

His and other studies have also found that sufficient physical education “doesn’t really change the outcome of their grades,” Taras said. The research found, however, that children perform better on exams taken right after recess.

Poor sleep is “the most ignored” threat to school performance, said Taras, especially for children who have sleep apnea. He supports later starting times for the school day, adding that kids “aren’t going to bed later” to take advantage of them.

Administrators and students’ doctors need to communicate better with one another in order to manage children with chronic conditions, he said.