Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

A systematic review of the effect of breakfast on the cognitive performance of children and adolescents

  • Alexa Hoyland (a1), Louise Dye (a1) and Clare L. Lawton (a1)

Breakfast is recommended as part of a healthy diet because it is associated with healthier macro- and micronutrient intakes, BMI and lifestyle. Breakfast is also widely promoted to improve cognitive function and academic performance, leading to the provision of breakfast initiatives by public health bodies. Despite this positive and intuitive perception of cognitive benefits, there has been no systematic review of the evidence. Systematic review methodology was employed to evaluate the effects of breakfast on cognitive performance in well-nourished children and nutritionally at-risk or stunted children. Acute experimental studies, school feeding programmes and studies of habitual breakfast intake are reviewed. Comparisons of breakfast v. no breakfast and breakfasts differing in energy and macronutrient composition are discussed. Included are forty-five studies described in forty-one papers published between 1950 and 2008. The evidence indicates that breakfast consumption is more beneficial than skipping breakfast, but this effect is more apparent in children whose nutritional status is compromised. There is a lack of research comparing breakfast type, precluding recommendations for the size and composition of an optimal breakfast for children's cognitive function. Few studies examined adolescents. Studies of school breakfast programmes suggest that such interventions can have positive effects on academic performance, but this may be in part explained by the increased school attendance that programmes encourage. The present systematic review considers methodological issues in this field and makes recommendations for future research design and policy priorities.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      A systematic review of the effect of breakfast on the cognitive performance of children and adolescents
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      A systematic review of the effect of breakfast on the cognitive performance of children and adolescents
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      A systematic review of the effect of breakfast on the cognitive performance of children and adolescents
      Available formats
Corresponding author
*Corresponding author: Professor L. Dye, fax +44 113 3435749, email
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

2A de la Hunty & M Ashwell (2006) Are people who regularly eat breakfast cereals slimmer than those who don't? A systematic review of the evidence. Nutr Bull 32, 118128.

4A Sjöberg , L Hallberg , D Höglund , . (2003) Meal pattern, food choice, nutrient intake and lifestyle factors in The Göteborg Adolescence Study. Eur J Clin Nutr 57, 15691578.

5PS Haines , DK Guilkey & BM Popkin (1996) Trends in breakfast consumption of US adults between 1965–1991. J Am Diet Assoc 96, 464470.

6C Street & P Kenway (1999) Food for thought: breakfast clubs and their challenges. London: New Policy Institute.

7L Dye , A Lluch & JE Blundell (2000) Macronutrients and mental performance. Nutrition 16, 10211034.

8A Hoyland , CL Lawton & L Dye (2008) Acute effects of macronutrient manipulations on cognitive test performance in healthy young adults: a systematic research review. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 32, 7285.

11D Kennedy & L Sokoloff (1957) An adaptation of the nitrous oxide method to the study of the cerebral circulation in children; normal values for cerebral blood flow and cerebral metabolic rate in childhood. J Clin Invest 36, 11301137.

13HT Chugani (1998) A critical period of brain development: studies of cerebral glucose utilization with PET. Prev Med 27, 184188.

15S Grantham-McGregor (2005) Can the provision of breakfast benefit school performance? Food Nutr Bull 26, Suppl. 2, 144158.

16H Taras (2005) Nutrition and student performance at school. J Sch Health 75, 199213.

20AH Lichtenstein , EA Yetley & J Lau (2008) Application of systematic review methodology to the field of nutrition. J Nutr 138, 22972306.

22CR Mahoney , HA Taylor , RB Kanarek , . (2005) Effect of breakfast composition on cognitive processes in elementary school children. Physiol Behav 85, 635645.

30AR Jadad , RA Moore , D Carroll , . (1996) Assessing the quality of reports of randomised clinical trials: is blinding necessary? Control Clin Trials 17, 112.

32C Jackson , F Cheater & I Reid (2008) A systematic review of decision support needs of parents making child health decisions. Health Expect 11, 232251.

33KA Wesnes , C Pincock , D Richardson , . (2003) Breakfast reduced declines in attention and memory over the morning in schoolchildren. Appetite 41, 329331.

34CR Busch , HA Taylor , RB Kanarek , . (2002) The effects of a confectionery snack on attention in young boys. Physiol Behav 77, 333340.

36N Vaisman , H Voet , A Akivis , . (1996) Effect of breakfast timing on the cognitive functions of elementary school students. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 150, 10891092.

38E Pollitt , NL Lewis , C Garza , . (1982–3) Fasting and cognitive function. J Psychiatr Res 17, 169174.

39J Ingwersen , MA Defeyter , DO Kennedy , . (2007) A low glycaemic index breakfast cereal preferentially prevents children's cognitive performance from declining throughout the morning. Appetite 49, 240244.

41D Benton , A Maconie & C Williams (2007) The influence of the glycaemic load of breakfast on the behaviour of children in school. Physiol Behav 92, 717724.

45I Shemilt , I Harvey , L Shepstone , . (2004) A national evaluation of school breakfast clubs: evidence from a cluster randomized controlled trial and an observational analysis. Child Care Health Dev 30, 413427.

46S Cueto & M Chinen (2008) Educational impact of a school breakfast programme in rural Peru. Int J Educ Dev 28, 132148.

48SD Baxter , JW Hardin , JA Royer , . (2008) Children's recalls from five dietary-reporting validation studies. Intrusions in correctly reported and misreported options in school breakfast reports. Appetite 51, 489500.

50A Meikle , LM Riby & B Stollery (2004) The impact of glucose ingestion and gluco-regulatory control on cognitive performance: a comparison of younger and middle aged adults. Hum Psychopharmacol 19, 523535.

51C Messier , M Gagnon & V Knott (1997) Effect of glucose and peripheral glucose regulation on memory in the elderly. Neurobiol Aging 18, 297304.

52S Nabb & D Benton (2006) The influence on cognition of the interaction between the macro-nutrient content of breakfast and glucose tolerance. Physiol Behav 87, 1623.

53D Benton , DS Owens & PY Parker (1994) Blood glucose influences memory and attention in young adults. Neuropsychologia 32, 595607.

54J Foster , P Lidder & S Sunram (1998) Glucose and memory: fractionation of enhancement effects? Psychopharmacology 137, 259270.

55D Kennedy & A Scholey (2000) Glucose administration, heart rate and cognitive performance: effects of increasing mental effort. Psychopharmacology 149, 6371.

56S Sünram-Lea , J Foster , P Durlach , . (2002) The effect of retrograde and anterograde glucose administration on memory performance in healthy young adults. Behav Brain Res 134, 505516.

58EL Gibson (2007) Carbohydrates and mental function: feeding or impeding the brain? Nutr Bull 32, Suppl. 1, 7183.

59ME Hasselmo & LM Giocomo (2006) Cholinergic modulation of cortical function. J Mol Neurosci 30, 133135.

60CR Park (2001) Cognitive effects of insulin in the central nervous system. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 25, 311323.

62SH Fairclough & K Houston (2004) A metabolic measure of mental effort. Biol Psychol 66, 177190.

64GC Rampersaud , MA Pereira , BL Girard , . (2005) Breakfast habits, nutritional status, body weight, and academic performance in children and adolescents. J Am Diet Assoc 105, 743760.

67C Michaud , N Musse , JP Nicolas , . (1991) Effects of breakfast-size on short-term memory, concentration, mood and blood glucose. J Adolesc Health 12, 5357.

69N Morris & P Sarll (2001) Drinking glucose improves listening span in students who miss breakfast. Educ Res 43, 201207.

70K Widenhorn-Müller , K Hille , J Klenk , . (2008) Influence of having breakfast on cognitive performance and mood in 13- to 20-year-old high school students: results of a crossover trial. Pediatrics 122, 279284.

71DP Wyon , L Abrahamsson , M Jartelius , . (1997) An experimental study on the effects of energy intake at breakfast on the test performance of 10-year-old children in school. Int J Food Sci Nutr 48, 512.

72S Cueto , E Jacoby & E Pollitt (1998) Breakfast prevents delays of attention and memory functions among nutritionally at-risk boys. J Appl Dev Psychol 19, 219234.

75S Muthayya , T Thomas , K Srinivasan , . (2007) Consumption of a mid-morning snack improves memory but not attention in school children. Physiol Behav 90, 142150.

77RE Kleinman , S Hall , H Green , . (2002) Diet, breakfast and academic performance in children. Ann Nutr Metab 46, Suppl. 1, 2430.

80JM Murphy , M Pagano , J Nachmani , . (1998) The relationship of school breakfast to psychosocial and academic functioning: cross-sectional and longitudinal observations in an inner-city school sample. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 152, 899907.

83AM Lopez-Sobaler , RM Ortega , ME Quintas , . (2003) Relationship between habitual breakfast and intellectual performance (logical reasoning) in well-nourished schoolchildren of Madrid (Spain). Eur J Clin Nutr 57, Suppl. 1, 4953.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Nutrition Research Reviews
  • ISSN: 0954-4224
  • EISSN: 1475-2700
  • URL: /core/journals/nutrition-research-reviews
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *