Effects of missing breakfast on the cognitive functions of school children of differing nutritional status



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The effects of omission of breakfast were examined in three groups of poor children aged 9- and 10-years-old—stunted (n=30), non-stunted controls (n=30), and previously severely malnourished (n=30). They were admitted to a metabolic ward on two occasions, one week apart. After an overnight fast, half the children received breakfast on their first visit and a cup of tea the second time. The treatment order was reversed the second time. The breakfast (590 Cals) comprised items from the Jamaican school-feeding programme. When breakfast was omitted, the stunted and previously severely malnourished groups responded similarly and differently from the control group. Both malnourished groups had lower scores in the fluency and visual short-term memory (coding) tests. In contrast, when fasted, the controls performed better in arithmetic and in problem-solving efficiency. The sample was then divided into wasted and non-wasted sets. When they missed breakfast, the wasted children were adversely affected in their performance of the digit span backwards test, a measure of auditory short-term memory with an immediate processing element. In addition, the wasted members of the malnourished groups were adversely affected in the efficiency of problem solving. The wasted controls also had lower scores in the digit span forward test (auditory short-term memory) when breakfast was omitted. All the findings remained when the children’s usual caloric intake for breakfast and their IQ’s were statistically controlled.


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