ABU DHABI // Pupils who skip breakfast find it difficult to focus in class, survey findings show.
The survey of 130 girls at two private schools in the capital found that those who regularly ate breakfast performed better in class.
The findings raised concerns that those avoiding breakfast may have eating disorders that are causing weight loss.
Pupils between 15 and 19 years old who had breakfast regularly improved their academic performance significantly, compared with their peers who skipped breakfast. Pupils’ excuses to avoid breakfast could signal an eating disorder, said Lina Khalil, a clinical dietician at the Camali Clinic in Dubai.
“It is important for parents to observe the eating behaviour of their children, especially girls in their teenage years,” she said.
“Excuses like ‘I don’t have time to eat in the morning’ and ‘I don’t have an appetite and I don’t feel hungry in the morning’ warrant a big question mark.”
Of the 130 girls surveyed, 13 were found to be underweight, while 23 were overweight or obese. Forty-three of them said they did not eat breakfast regularly. Of this group, 17 said there was no time for breakfast.
Fifteen said they were not hungry, seven said they did not eat breakfast because it was not prepared for them, while three said they feared putting on weight. The rest give no reason or said they could not find food they liked.
Ms Khalil said she was seeing more girls with eating disorders who were coming up with excuses not to have breakfast.
“I am not saying that teenagers who don’t have breakfast are going to develop an eating disorder. I am saying that their behaviour should be observed and monitored. It should not be a trend,” she said.
During sleep, the human body uses its energy reserves to fuel its organs and keep them functioning properly. This energy has to be replenished at the start of a new day. Not doing so might have a negative effect on the body and brain, thus affecting a pupil’s ability to learn.
According to a review of 19 studies of breakfast’s effect on the behaviour of adolescents and children, findings from 11 of the studies showed a positive outcome.
Regular consumption of breakfast has a positive effect on children’s cognitive performance, particularly for memory and attention, research has shown.
“Studies have shown that children who regularly skip breakfast are more likely to have impaired function, hyperactivity, absenteeism, and tiredness than in children who are not hungry,” said Dr Dinesh Banur, head of paediatric services at NMC Royal Hospital.
“Usually foods consumed at breakfast include fruit, bread, and calcium and iron-rich milk and iron-fortified cereal, a rich source of fibre and vitamins. Hence children who miss breakfast miss out on these healthy nutrients.”
Because children need more sleep than adults, they go longer between meals than adults and their glycogen stores are more depleted by morning, causing a lack of energy.
Family doctors say breakfast is the most frequently skipped meal; between 20 and 30 per cent of children and adolescents in the developed world are thought to skip breakfast.
“It is the responsibility of paediatricians to recognise this problem at every point of contact with the children and the family and offer suitable advice and guidance,” Dr Banur said.