Breakfast impacts school success

Findings published in the Journal of School Psychology show that eating a healthy breakfast can lead to higher levels of motivation and achievement for students that day in school. Eating no breakfast can lower motivation and achievement.

The study funded by the Australian Research Council and The Future Project at the King’s School, also found that eating an unhealthy breakfast had a similar detrimental effect on motivation and achievement as eating no breakfast at all.

“Many students make less-than-ideal breakfast choices at the start of the school day or skip breakfast altogether,” says Scientia Professor Andrew Martin, lead author of the study and an educational psychologist from the School of Education at UNSW Arts, Design & Architecture. “Our findings highlight that eating a healthy breakfast each and every morning improves student motivation and academic achievement.”

“As you might expect, eating a healthy breakfast every day is good for students’ motivation and achievement while skipping breakfast is not so good,” Prof. Martin says. “Somewhat unexpectedly, eating an unhealthy breakfast could be as disruptive to motivation and achievement as not eating breakfast at all.

“In fact, simply having breakfast isn’t enough to gain the full benefits of eating breakfast; quality is also important for optimal motivation.”

The research also found while breakfast predicted student motivation, it did not predict student achievement. Instead, motivation predicted achievement.

“A healthy breakfast has traditionally been associated with improved academic performance, but the motivational factors implicated in this process have not been well understood,” Prof. Martin says.

Breakfast as an educational intervention

The extent to which a regular healthy breakfast impacts student motivation and achievement has implications for educational policy and practice.

“Having a healthy breakfast is somewhat within a student’s immediate control and could potentially be addressed either at school or home through better health education and communication,” Prof. Martin says.

Schools and the school system can better support students by offering a healthy breakfast option at school, including information about healthy breakfast in the curriculum, and communicating with parents at home about healthy breakfast ideas and strategies.

“It is possible to incorporate a healthy breakfast or morning snack into the school day,” Prof. Martin says, “School-based breakfast programs are one avenue for this, or schools might consider providing students with a mid-morning snack, especially for students from disadvantaged or food-insecure homes.”