Children who eat breakfast on a near-daily basis have significantly higher scores in verbal and performance IQ tests, according to new research from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.
For the study, researchers looked at data from 1,269 six-year-old children in China, where breakfast is highly valued.
The scientists concluded that children who did not eat breakfast regularly had, on average, 4.6 points lower total IQ scores than children who often or always ate breakfast.
The two components of overall IQ also saw similar deficits. Kids who skipped breakfast scored, on average, 5.58 points lower on their verbal test and 2.50 points lower on their performance test.
The study also adjusted for other variables in the childrens’ lives that may have offered alternative explanations for the differences, such as income and schooling.
IQ stands for intelligence quotient. An IQ test is a psychological test designed to test a person’s overall intelligence. It is comprised of two sub-scores — one measuring a person’s verbal abilities and one measuring a person’s performance skills.
One standard deviation — 15 points — is considered significant in IQ testing. So none of the current study’s findings would be considered a significant difference.
“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, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., 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 — the ability to think and reason things through — is rapidly developing.
Both the nutritional and social aspects of breakfast play an important role. After a whole night of fasting, breakfast serves as a means to supply “fuel” to the brain.
The authors noted that mealtime discussions may also promote cognitive development by offering children the opportunity to expand their vocabulary, practice synthesizing and comprehending stories, and acquire general knowledge.
“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 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.”