(NaturalNews) Children who regularly skip breakfast have lower verbal, performance and full-scale IQs than other children, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.
"Childhood is a critical period in which dietary and lifestyle patterns are initiated, and these habits can have important immediate and long-term implications," lead researcher Jianghong Liu said. "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."
Although the nutritional, cognitive and performance benefits of breakfast have been well established, the study is actually one of the first to look at the connection between breakfast and IQ. The researchers analyzed data from 1,269 six-year-olds taking part in the ongoing China Jintan Child Cohort Study, which is designed to uncover the early risk factors for later childhood neurobehavioral health.
Breakfast is highly valued in China, so skipping it is less common than in the United States.
The researchers found that even after adjusting for seven sociodemographic risk factors for low IQ, children who regularly skipped breakfast had lower overall IQ scores (by 4.6 points) than children who always or nearly always ate breakfast. The performance IQ scores among children who skipped breakfast were 2.50 points lower, and their verbal IQ scores were 5.58 points lower.
The study was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
The researchers believe that breakfast is especially important for young children, whose brains are still going through rapid cognitive development. After an entire night of fasting, the brain is starved for energy, and breakfast supplies it with the fuel it needs for a new day. In addition, the researchers suggested that the social interaction that children receive from eating breakfast with their families also promotes brain development. Observing and taking part in regular group conversation helps young children expand their vocabularies, learn general knowledge, and gain practice at understanding and synthesizing stories.
"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," Liu said.
"These findings ... hold important public health implications regarding regular breakfast consumption in early young children."
One way to increase breakfast consumption among children would be to make the school day start later, the researchers suggested. Alternately (or in addition), schools could provide breakfast for students.
Other studies have shown that about 18 percent of U.S. residents over the age of two skip breakfast regularly. They have also shown that it is not just children who suffer from skipping this important meal. A 2012 study found that people who skip breakfast tend to weigh more than average, and also are more likely to consume too many high-calorie foods and sugary soft drinks, and to eat fewer fruits and vegetables.