OBJECTIVES: To outline the prevalence and disparities of breakfast consumption among school-aged urban minority youth, causal pathways through which skipping breakfast adversely affects academic achievement, and proven or promising approaches for schools to increase breakfast consumption.
METHODS: Literature review.
RESULTS: On any given day a substantial proportion of American youth do not eat breakfast. On an average day, less than half (∼46%) of children participating in free or reduced-price lunch also participated in the School Breakfast Program for which they were also eligible. In a large study of 9-year-olds, 77% of White girls and 57% of Black girls consumed breakfast on all 3 days assessed; by age 19, the respective rates were 32% and 22%. Neuroscience research has identified the processes by which dietary behavior influences neuronal activity and synaptic plasticity, both of which influence cognitive functions. Participation in School Breakfast Programs has also been associated with reduced absenteeism. Universal School Breakfast Programs and allowing youth to eat breakfast in the classroom (vs cafeteria) are approaches that have been shown to increase participation.
CONCLUSIONS: Skipping breakfast is highly and disproportionately prevalent among school-aged urban minority youth, has a negative impact on academic achievement by adversely affecting cognition and absenteeism, and effective practices are available for schools to address this problem. Despite wide availability, the majority of American youth do not participate in School Breakfast Programs. High-quality universal breakfast programs that allow students to eat breakfast in the classroom are especially needed for youth who are not likely to get good nutrition the rest of the day.