This column appears in the Nevada Appeal Wednesday health pages. It addresses topics related to the health of our community.
There has been a lot of media attention about children receiving school lunches during the COVID pandemic — and do not get me wrong, that is extremely important — but the unsung hero of school nutrition programs nationwide is breakfast.
We grow up hearing that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” but many of us skip over breakfast. However, there is something to be said for that old adage. Studies continue to show how important breakfast is for our brain function. Studies also show that breakfast can be the difference between passing and failing grades, good mental health, less disciplinary issues, and obesity and related health issues for our students.
Breakfast breaks down into the words “break” and “fast” meaning it is the meal that breaks the fast we have been observing since going to sleep the night before. Food is fuel and the growing brain of a school-aged child need more fuel than an adult brain. Therefore, it only makes sense that breaking their fast is even more important than breaking our own. This is especially true when they are heading to school to learn the foundations for the rest of their lives. If you do a search for “breakfast and cognitive function in children” you will find numerous articles over the decades about the effect of breakfast on learning ability and behavior.
Again and again research shows that children who eat breakfast earn better grades and do better on tests. This is not only because their brains have the fuel to learn, but also because they are better able to focus and participate in class when they have a full stomach.
Another benefit of increased focus and participation is fewer behavioral problems. Eating breakfast has been shown to decrease behavior problems and increase mental health. The relationship between breakfast and behavioral problems becomes even more apparent in low-income, food-insecure households. In food-insecure households (homes where food runs tight, accounting for 1 in 10 households across America), children tend to have more behavioral problems and mental illness due to toxic stress.
This stress comes from something many of us take for granted; knowing where our next meal will come from. Thanks to government programs providing for free and reduced-price meals, many students that would otherwise go without get two full meals a day. School breakfast has been proven to improve mental health outcomes for students in food-insecure households. Knowing that they have two meals to look forward to at school improves mental health which snowballs into many other things including less disciplinary visits to the principal’s office.
Obesity is arguably the top health issue in the United States when you include all of the associated health issues that obesity can bring; heart disease, type 2 diabetes, liver disease and the mental health toll that comes from bullying due to size. These formerly considered ‘adult diseases’ are now impacting children as the obesity rate in America increases. Eating breakfast, both for school-aged children and for adults, has been linked to lower rates of obesity. It has been theorized that this is because it keeps us full until lunch resulting in eating more nutrient dense foods at lunch and dinner in smaller quantities as well as consuming fewer snacks in between meals.
It has also been shown that people who regularly eat breakfast tend to have an overall healthier diet with less “empty” calories from junk food. When you combine that with the school breakfast program, you are set up for a major win. School breakfasts include whole grains, fruit, dairy, and protein. It is one of the most balanced meals you can get! Research suggests that getting adequate nutrition decreases the likelihood of obesity. School breakfasts meet up to half of nutrient requirements for the day per the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025.
Knowing what we know now I think it’s high time we start giving breakfast the attention and thanks that it deserves! Whether eaten at home, on the run, or at school, take a moment to enjoy and appreciate your breakfast this week. It will never be time wasted.
Carson City Health and Human Services urges everyone to take an active in your health. For resources and information about Department programs and services, check out our website at www.gethealthycarsoncity.org, follow us on Twitter @CCHealthEd, “Like” us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cchhs, follow us Instagram @gethealthycarsoncity, call us at (775) 887-2190, or visit us at 900 East Long St. in Carson City.