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Children skipping breakfast risk nutrition deficit, warns new report

22nd Nov 2023 - 08:13
british nutrition foundation children skipping breakfast magic
A new scientific review by the British Nutrition Foundation, in partnership with the charity, Magic Breakfast, highlights that many schoolchildren are skipping breakfast, making it harder to get the nutrients they need for healthy development and learning.

The report says that teenagers, especially girls, and children from households on lower incomes are particularly at risk. 

Sara Stanner, science director at the British Nutrition Foundation, said: “Arriving at school hungry affects children’s ability to learn and process information.

“All children have the right to healthy food – tackling hunger and helping children get the nutrition they need should be a part of a whole school approach to enable all children to realise their potential.”

Dr Lindsey MacDonald, chief executive of Magic Breakfast, added: “The immediate benefit of school breakfasts is children are better prepared to learn, and focus on their education rather than being undermined and distracted by their empty tummies.

“This year, our annual survey revealed Magic Breakfast is a key contributor to learning, with 87% of our partner schools saying Magic Breakfast has a positive impact on educational attainment, whilst our What's For Breakfast research, revealed that 85% of parents felt eating breakfast has a positive impact on their child’s attainment.

“We need to ensure that all children can access a healthy breakfast and maximise their potential.”

The review looked at the contribution of breakfast to nutrient intakes and diet quality in school-aged children aged 4-18 years. It also considered the effect of breakfast consumption on obesity and other markers of health as well as cognitive function, behaviour, and educational performance, with a focus on low socio-economic status households.

The authors found that continuously missing out on a nutritious breakfast can make it harder for children and young people to get enough of the nutrients they need for good physical and mental health and learning.

This includes nutrients of concern for growth and development such as calcium and iron.

They said that children and young people from lower socio-economic groups were less likely to meet dietary recommendations and nutritional targets. They were also more likely to have nutritional deficiencies such as iron deficiency anaemia and be living with obesity, compared to those from higher income households.

The evidence suggested that healthier breakfasts, could help children and young people to maintain a healthy body weight and could have a positive impact on school-related outcomes.

Encouraging breakfasts that contain essential nutrients, are high in fibre and low in saturated fat, free sugars and salt, particularly in adolescence when lifestyle patterns are developing, might help contribute to well-being, both in the short and longer term, the report found.

And it suggested that free school breakfast provision could help address health and educational inequalities for the most vulnerable children and young people by helping to reduce hunger and potentially providing a nutritional safety net in the context of a whole school approach.

Written by
David Foad