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Study: Timing of Breakfasts Affects School Performance

October 15, 1996

CHICAGO (AP) _ Children who ate a sugared cereal breakfast 30 minutes before school did better on tests than those who ate two hours before, according to a new study.

Researchers suggest the timing of breakfast may affect scholastic performance, and foods that raise blood sugar _ such as sweetened cereal _ might boost mental sharpness.

Teachers have long believed that hungry children don’t learn well. A 1994 Tufts University study found that children who ate a school breakfast had better attendance and standardized test scores than those who ate none.

The researchers asked about 500 boys and girls in five Israeli elementary schools if they’d eaten breakfast at home. The 77 percent who had eaten scored significantly better on standardized memory tests.

For the next two weeks, researchers tried something different: about two-thirds of the 500 pupils skipped breakfast at home and ate an ounce of sugared cornflakes and 6 ounces of milk at the start of their school day. The rest kept their usual habits.

On the last day, all the pupils took standardized tests 1 1/2 to 2 hours after arriving at school. The children who ate at school scored significantly better than children who had eaten at home or who had skipped breakfast, the researchers said.

Typical breakfasts at home were chocolate milk and biscuits or corn flakes and milk, they said.

The results suggest that routinely eating breakfast 2 hours before testing does not improve thinking abilities in 11- to 13-year-olds, but that eating 30 minutes before the test notably improves scoring, authors said.

Previous studies in animals and humans indicate that increases in blood sugar just before or after a learning session improve the ability to think and remember, the researchers noted.

Further studies are needed to explore the relationship between food content, feeding time and scholastic performance, said the researchers, led by Dr. Nachum Vaisman of Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

``I think the message is eating SOMETHING will make you perform better in school,″ said Sheah Rarback, who teaches pediatrics at the University of Miami School of Medicine and commented for the American Dietetic Association.

The federal School Breakfast Program, started in 1966, now helps about 4 million American children get breakfast at school, Rarback said.

The Israeli study is published in the October issue of the American Medical Association’s Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, released Monday.

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