Friday, December 28, 2012

Breakfast and School Performance

I always ask my students if they took breakfast before coming to school. It was quite surprising to me at first when the mass majority of the students answered "no". When I asked why, they said "tak sempat". I dismissed the conversation upon hearing so but I never really stop thinking whether it is really the time issue that's hindering breakfast, or has it become a bad habit instead? I mean, it could not be so time-consuming to have some ready-made breakfast like a couple slices of bread, some cereal or simply drink some Milo. When I was in primary school, my mother never failed to serve me breakfast everyday. We couldn't afford expensive breakfast cereals so it was normally nasi goreng with eggs or when in the rush, just bread with jam. Perhaps many of us has overlooked the importance of having breakfast to kickstart our day, but despite this, these people still perform well in school or workplace. Because of this, it puzzles me if having breakfast really has something to do with an improved performance in school. Logically, there should be a connection, but I will not believe so simply because I'm told so.

So I did a quick research and I want to share what I found with you.

Mahoney et al. did a research on the effect of breakfast composition on cognitive processes in elementary school children. The research is focused on the following cognitive processes: spatial memory, short-term memory, visual perception, visual attention, auditory attention and verbal memory. 

Spatial memory: Spatial memory relates to how the brain stores information regarding the location of physical objects in space - the environment around you. Spatial memory is extremely vital for many species' survival, including us humans: it allows you to find your way in a familiar city, it allows a rat to learn the location of food in a maze, and it allows cats to find their food bowl in the kitchen. Obviously, earlier on in our evolution, it allowed our ancestors to locate sources of water, food, and shelter.

Short-term memory: Short-term memory, also known as primary or active memory, is the information we are currently aware of or thinking about. 

Visual perception: Visual perception is the ability to interpret the surrounding environment by processing information that is contained in visible light. 

Visual attention: Visual attention is the ability to maintain visual fixation and concentration on a particular target or object. This skill is of critical necessity for school children and helps them maintain on‐task behaviors. 

Auditory attention: Auditory attention is the ability to focus on relevant acoustic signals, particularly speech or linguistic stimuli, and sustain that attention for an age-appropriate amount of time. 

Verbal memory: Verbal memory is a term used in cognitive psychology that refers to memory of words and other abstractions involving language. 

Mahoney et al. examined the effects of breakfast composition versus no breakfast on cognitive performance. Results suggest that performance on most measures is enhanced by breakfast consumption and that the composition of breakfast can also influence children’s cognitive performance on some measures, particularly spatial memory, short-term memory, and auditory attention.

Another research by Murphy et al. studied if a relationship exists between participation in a school breakfast program and measures of psychosocial and academic functioning in school-aged children. Both cross-sectional and longitudinal data from this study provide strong evidence that higher rates of participation in school breakfast programs are associated in the short-term with improved student functioning on a broad range of psychosocial and academic measures.

Cueto's research relates breakfast consumption with increased available levels of energy, improved nutritional status and better school attendance which would improve the capacity of active learning and subsequently school performance. This is summarized in the following theoretical model:

The following conclusions can be drawn from the findings of this study:

  1. Breakfast consumption has a short-term effect in improving selected learning skills, especially work memory. 
  2. School breakfast has a positive effect on the nutritional status of the children involved.
  3. School breakfast programmes have a positive effect on school attendance and probably on dropout rates. 
  4. The effect of breakfast consumption on school performance depends on the interaction between the programme, student characteristics (malnutrition) and school organisation.

Based on these facts, I am convinced that breakfast consumption does have some positive effects in school performance in general. Just eat something in the morning, before you go to school or work to make sure your brain and body have sufficient energy level to support active learning and maximize work rate as well as productivity. Please, do not skip your breakfast and do encourage your students/children to take breakfast.


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