Public Health Nutrition

Research Papers

Behavioural nutrition

Association between breakfast consumption and educational outcomes in 9–11-year-old children

Hannah J Littlecotta1 c1, Graham F Moorea1, Laurence Moorea2, Ronan A Lyonsa3 and Simon Murphya1

a1 Centre for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement (DECIPHer), School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, 1–3 Museum Place, Cardiff CF10 3BD, UK

a2 MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK

a3 Centre for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement (DECIPHer), Centre for Health Information, Research and Evaluation, Swansea University, Swansea, UK


Objective Breakfast consumption has been consistently associated with health outcomes and cognitive functioning in schoolchildren. Evidence of direct links with educational outcomes remains equivocal. We aimed to examine the link between breakfast consumption in 9–11-year-old children and educational outcomes obtained 6–18 months later.

Design Data on individual-level free school meal entitlement and educational outcomes (Statutory Assessment Tests (SATs) at Key Stage 2) were obtained via the SAIL databank and linked to earlier data collected on breakfast consumption. Multilevel modelling assessed associations between breakfast consumption and SATs.

Setting Trial of the Primary School Free Breakfast Initiative in Wales.

Subjects Year 5 and 6 students, n 3093 (baseline) and n 3055 (follow-up).

Results Significant associations were found between all dietary behaviours and better performance in SATs, adjusted for gender and individual- and school-level free school meal entitlement (OR=1·95; CI 1·58, 2·40 for breakfast, OR=1·08; CI 1·04, 1·13 for healthy breakfast items). No association was observed between number of unhealthy breakfast items consumed and educational performance. Association of breakfast consumption with educational performance was stronger where the measure of breakfast consumption was more proximal to SATs tests (OR=2·02 measured 6 months prior to SATs, OR=1·61 measured 18 months prior).

Conclusions Significant positive associations between self-reported breakfast consumption and educational outcomes were observed. Future research should aim to explore the mechanisms by which breakfast consumption and educational outcomes are linked, and understand how to promote breakfast consumption among schoolchildren. Communicating findings of educational benefits to schools may help to enhance buy-in to efforts to improve health behaviours of pupils.

(Received April 22 2015)

(Revised August 04 2015)

(Accepted August 17 2015)

(Online publication September 28 2015)


  • Breakfast consumption;
  • Educational outcomes;
  • Socio-economic inequalities;
  • Free school breakfast


c1 Corresponding author: Email