Eating breakfast provides energy for the brain and
improves learning. The effect of glucose deprivation
is noticeable by a fall in blood glucose level of
sufficient degree, which is rapidly followed by
disturbance in cerebral function(1). The gap of about
10 to 12 hours between dinner and breakfast causes,
low blood glucose levels and habitually missing
breakfast can adversely affect cognitive perfor-
mance. The gradual decline of insulin and glucose
level could determine a stress response, which
interferes with different aspects of cognitive
function, such as attention and working memory. It is
plausible that the decline in cerebral iron level likely
to result from diet that is deficient in heme intensifies
the stress associated with overnight and morning
Sustained contribution of breakfast to a person’s
health status over time is particularly relevant for
children whose daily dietary intake barely meets the
requirements(3). Breakfast eaters tend to have higher
basal metabolism, and have less craving for the food.
Children who skip breakfast but eat later on in the
day may catch up their daily nutrient requirements
but are unlikely to attend and concentrate on the
teacher’s lecture in the morning session because they
are hungry. If the transitory metabolic changes due to
skipping breakfast were to occur frequently, they
would be likely to have a cumulative adverse effect
that may place a child’s school progress at risk(4).
The present study hypothesized that, the habit of
consuming breakfast regularly in combination with
other demographic factors, nutritional status and
regular school attendance will positively influence
Breakfast Eating Habit and its Influence on Attention-concentration, Immediate
Memory and School Achievement
NS GAJRE, S FERNANDEZ, N BALAKRISHNA AND S VAZIR
From the National Institute of Nutrition (Indian Council of Medical Research), Hyderabad, India.
Correspondence to: Dr. Shahnaz Vazir, Deputy Director, National Institute of Nutrition (ICMR),
Jamai-Osmania, Hyderabad 500 007, India. E-mail: email@example.com.
Manuscript received: December 10, 2007; Initial review completed: March 10, 2008;
Revision accepted: March 31, 2008.
Objective: To study the relationship of breakfast to the attention -concentration, immediate recall memory,
nutritional status and academic achievement of school children. Design: Cross-sectional study. Setting:
Two schools catering to middle class families in Hyderabad city. Methods: 379 urban 11 to 13 years old
school children studying in 6th, 7th and 8th grades. Data collected in a single way blind procedure using
Letter Cancellation test, immediate memory from the PGI Memory Scale, school marks of the previous year
and nutritional status. Results: Comparison between groups indicated significant differences in the letter
cancellation (LC) total scores with the regular breakfast group achieving the highest mean scores
compared to the no breakfast group (P<0.05). Marks scored by the regular breakfast group in subjects -
Science, English and total Percentage were significantly higher compared to those scored by the children
in the no breakfast group. Regular breakfast eating habit and weight for age percent were significantly
(P<0.001) associated with immediate recall memory score explaining 4.3 percent variation. Conclusions:
Regular habit of eating breakfast as opposed to irregular consumption or skipping breakfast altogether
had beneficial influence on attention-concentration, memory and school achievement.
Key Words: Attention-concentration, Breakfast, Children, Immediate memory, School achievement.
INDIAN PEDIATRICS 824 VOLUME 45__OCTOBER 17, 2008
Accompanying Editorial: Pages 816-817.
INDIAN PEDIATRICS 825 VOLUME 45__OCTOBER 17, 2008
GAJRE, et al. BREAKFAST AND SCHOOL ACHIEVEMENT
attention-concentration, memory and academic
performance of students. We aimed to study the
relationship of breakfast to the attention-
concentration, immediate recall memory, nutritional
status and academic achievement of schoolchildren
11-13 years of age.
This cross-sectional study was conducted among
379 urban middle class children aged between 11 to
13 years studying in 6th, 7th and 8th grades in two
schools catering to middle class families in
Breakfast was defined as “the first meal of the
day that has been taken in the morning, before going
to school (i.e., before 9am)”. ‘Breakfast’ is referred
to any food item solid or liquid excluding caffeinated
Data were collected in a single way blind
procedure. Those eating breakfast regularly
(Group I), irregular breakfast eaters i.e., those
skipping breakfast 2-3 times a week (Group II) and
those who habitually never ate breakfast (Group III)
were identified on the basis of a pre-tested
questionnaire on breakfast eating habit, that was
filled up by the children after they were tested on
psychological tests. Data on memory, attention-
concentration, school achievement, growth and
socioeconomic status were collected using the
following tests and procedures:
Letter cancellation test: The test takes 5 minutes and
requires eye-hand coordination, speed, and sustained
attention-concentration. Test-retest reliabilities
ranged from 0.89 to 0.92 for the total score after a
five-hour interval, and 0.92 for the total score minus
errors after a 12-month interval(5). Instructions and
scoring were followed as per the manual.
PGI memory scale: Although this tool(6) was
developed for adults to assess dysfunction, the
modified version of the ‘immediate recall’ sub-test
was used after adaptation and validation for school
The Letter cancellation and Immediate memory
tests were administered to the students in each class
as group tests with one following the other, during
the morning session of school between 9 to 11 am.
Assessment of nutritional status: The height and
weight of the study children were measured and
compared against NCHS standards for the respective
Socioeconomic status: Socioeconomic Status
Rating Scale (SESRS) was used to assess the
socioeconomic status (SES) of the families(8).
Information regarding locality, religion, caste,
education and occupation of parents, family type,
etc., was filled up by the parents.
School achievement: Previous year’s annual
examination marks for Math, Science and English
were used for analyzing school achievement.
Breakfast questionnaire: A questionnaire to identify
breakfast eating pattern was developed and pre-
tested for the study. This questionnaire also assessed
the type of breakfast foods, and reason for not taking
breakfast on a regular basis.
Data analysis: Sample size estimates were based on
a confidence interval of 0.95 and power efficiency
) of 0.80, which are accepted international
norms. Statistical package for social science (SPSS)
version 11.5 was used for the data analysis. ANOVA
with Post-hoc square was used to study the
association of nutritional status and the breakfast
eating pattern. Multiple linear regression analysis
was done to assess the contribution of each
independent variable (SES, type of breakfast eating
habit, and nutritional status) in explaining the
variation in the dependent variables (attention-
concentration, immediate recall, and school marks).
The level of the significance considered was
The 379 subjects selected for the study were in the
age group of 11-13 years. 62.3 % of children
habitually consumed breakfast (Group I), 33.8 %
consumed it irregularly, skipping it 2 or 3 times a
week (Group II) and, 3.9 % did not consume
breakfast at all (Group III). 44.3% subjects had
completed 11 years of age, 38.5% had completed 12
GAJRE, et al. BREAKFAST AND SCHOOL ACHIEVEMENT
INDIAN PEDIATRICS 826 VOLUME 45__OCTOBER 17, 2008
years of age and 17.2% had completed 13 years of
age. About 55% were boys and 45% girls.
Maternal education and occupation: Majority of
mothers were housewives (68.6%, Group I; 76.6%,
Group II; and 73.3%, Group III). Percent post
graduate mothers were the highest in the Group I
(61.4 %) compared to Group II (56.3%) and Group
III (46.7%). However, these differences were not
Nutritional status: There were 4.7%, 9.4% and
6.7% underweight children in Group I, Group II and
Group III, respectively. The percentage stunting
among children in the 3 groups was 12.7%, 12.5%
and 13.3%, respectively. These differences were not
Attention-concentration, memory and school
achievement: Table I shows that there were
significant differences in the letter cancellation (LC)
total scores with Group I achieving the highest mean
scores compared to Group III (P<0.05). Marks
scored by Group I in Science, English and total
percentage was significantly higher compared to
those scored by Group III, but not Group II.
Multivariate analysis: Table II shows that regular
breakfast eating habit was found to be significantly
(P<0.02) associated with LC scores of the children
explaining 1.4 percent variation. Regular breakfast
eating habit and weight for age percent were
significantly (P<0.001) associated with immediate
recall memory explaining 4.3 percent variation.
TABLE IIORDER AND SET OF V ARIABLES ASSOCIATED WITH LETTER CANCELLATION SCORE, IMMEDIATE RECALL M EMORY AND SCHOOL
MARKS OF PREVIOUS Y EAR ANNUAL E XAM
Dependent variable Order of variable R2 % F Ratio P value
Letter cancellation score Habit (regular breakfast) 1.4 5.3 0.02
Immediate recall memory Weight for age and regular breakfast habit 4.3 8.5 0.001
Math marks Occupation of mother 2.5 9.6 0.01
Science marks Type of family, regular breakfast habit and height for age 6.2 8.3 0.001
English Regular breakfast habit and education of mother 4.8 9.4 0.001
Percentage of marks Regular breakfast habit 1.9 7.3 0.01
Step-wise multiple linear regression analysis: Independent variables = Community, Education of mother, Education of father,
Occupation of father, Occupation of mother, Type of family, Type of house, Height for age, Weight for age and Breakfast habit
(regular, irregular, no breakfast).
TABLE I LETTER C ANCELLATION (LC) AND IMMEDIATE RECALL MEMORY SCORES, AND S UBJECT MARKS IN CHILDREN A CCORDING TO
BREAKFAST EATING PATTERNS
Variables Group I Group II Group III
(n=226) Mean ± SD (n=128) Mean ± SD (n=15) Mean ± SD
Letter cancellation score 145.3 ± 32.4 140.6 ± 33.4 124.8 ± 32.8
Immediate memory recall 4.3 ± 1.9 4.0 ± 1.7 3.6 ± 1.9
Math 56.7±18.1 56.3±15.6 45.9±18.9
Science 66.2±18.3 62.5±17.4 55.3±14.8
English 66.2±18.5 61.9±15.1 55.5±16.9
%Total 63.3±18.5 60.0±14.5 52.2±15.2
Breakfast eating pattern: Group I-Regular, Group II-Irregular(skipping breakfast 2-3 times/wk), Group III-No breakfast.
INDIAN PEDIATRICS 827 VOLUME 45__OCTOBER 17, 2008
GAJRE, et al. BREAKFAST AND SCHOOL ACHIEVEMENT
Significant association (P<0.01) was found
between maternal occupation and maths marks of the
previous year explaining about 2.5 percent variation.
Family type, regular breakfast habit and height for
age were significantly (P<0.001) associated with
children’s science marks explaining about 6.2
percent variation. However, among these, height for
age was negatively associated, a finding that is
difficult to explain in the present study. Education of
the mother (≥graduate) and regular breakfast habit
were significantly associated with the English
marks, explaining 4.8 percent variation. Regular
breakfast was significantly (P<0.01) associated with
total aggregate marks and explained about 2 percent
variation in it.
Types of foods consumed for breakfast: Foods that
were routinely consumed at breakfast by Group I and
Group II were cereal (23.3%) and, cereal and pulse
(42.4%) based items. 9.7% consumed cereal and
milk based or cereal, pulse and milk combination or
just milk. 3.4% consumed eggs and 2.11% fruits.
Self report of symptoms by the subjects: Self reports
of feelings of children indicated that 91.4% in Group
I did not feel sleepy during the morning session of
the school compared to 59.4% in Group II and nearly
75 % in Group III. The difference was significant at
P<0.001. Group I (97.5%) was able to concentrate
better during morning session of the school
compared to Group II (77.3%) and Group III (54%).
These differences were statistically significant
Reasons for skipping or not eating breakfast: Fig. 1
shows the distribution of groups according to their
reasons for skipping breakfast. These results indicate
poor time management as a major reason that
prevented children from eating breakfast and
mothers from preparing the same.
Results indicate that regular habit of eating breakfast
as opposed to irregular consumption or skipping
breakfast altogether had beneficial influence on
attention-concentration, memory and school
achievement. More than any other meal, the eating of
breakfast is probably the first to get compromised as
a result of poor time management. This fact is borne
out in the study by Ortega, et al.(9) that found
children eating a more substantial breakfast during
holidays than on school days. The findings of the
present study also indicate constraints on time as the
major reason for skipping, apart from mothers not
having the time to cook and a monotonous type of
Seventy percent children consumed cereal based
or cereal and pulse based breakfast. Almost 10
percent consumed cereal plus milk based or cereal,
pulse and milk combination or just milk. Few
children consumed eggs and fruit. Studies
elsewhere, found that cereal, milk and dairy products
were major breakfast constituents among children
and adolescents(10). Notwithstanding the type of
breakfast, the results in the present study showed that
eating breakfast on a regular basis had beneficial
effect on school achievement and attention-
Children’s subjective feelings of sleepiness and
lack of concentration during the morning session of
the school substantiated the findings on the Letter
Cancellation test. Group I children responded that
they were able to concentrate in class during the
morning session of school. These results were not
observed by many other studies, except the one by
Fernald, et al.(11) who found that children in well-
equipped classrooms paid more attention in class
after having breakfast. Group III children responded
that they did not feel hungry in the morning session
of the school. This finding may be attributed to the
formation of the habit of remaining hungry to the
extent that it becomes imperceptible over time. The
FIG. 1 Reasons for skipping breakfast.
GAJRE, et al. BREAKFAST AND SCHOOL ACHIEVEMENT
INDIAN PEDIATRICS 828 VOLUME 45__OCTOBER 17, 2008
differences between the groups on feelings of hunger
were not significant. On the contrary, another
study(12) demonstrated that participation in school
breakfast program enhanced daily nutrient intake
and decreased feelings of hunger.
The results of the multiple regression analysis
indicate significant association between the
independent variables viz., regular breakfast eating
habit, maternal education (higher) and maternal
employment, weight for age and nuclear type of
family with the dependent variables viz., attention-
concentration, immediate memory and school
achievement. Maternal employment was not an
obstacle to consumption of breakfast. Students who
regularly consumed breakfast were better nourished
(weight for age index) and achieved higher scores on
the immediate recall memory test and performed
significantly better on the letter cancellation test
Contributors: NSG was involved in the data collection,
and preparation of the manuscript. SF was involved in data
collection for psychological parameters and drafting of the
manuscript. NBK was instrumental in data analysis. SV
developed the concept, interpreted the results, and
corrected the manuscript. She will act as guarantor of the
Funding: National Institute of Nutrition (ICMR),
Competing interests: None stated.
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WHAT IS ALREADY KNOWN?
• Micronutrient supplementation improves attention concentration among school children.
WHAT T HIS S TUDY ADDS?
• Regular habit of consuming breakfast can improve attention-concentration, memory and school achievement.