In Europe and the USA, breakfast provision in school, usually via breakfast clubs, has been clearly proven to provide both nutritional and educational benefits to the children who participate on a regular basis. Teachers will tell you that hungry children can’t learn - in fact, if a child arrives at school hungry, teachers say they lose one hour of learning time a day1. This means that if a child arrived at school hungry once a week they would lose the equivalent of 8.4 weeks of learning time (70 per cent of a term) over the whole of their primary school life. If a child arrives hungry every day, the loss of learning is considerably more, affecting the child’s potential to learn, concentrate and participate in everyday activities.
Numerous studies show a positive link between participation in a breakfast club and improved performance in tests, concentration, memory and academic achievement2. Interestingly, these benefits are not just confined to those children who are at risk of poor nutrition. Research conducted in the UK demonstrates academic benefits from breakfast club attendance, but also highlights benefits from the provision of opportunity to develop social skills and an improved sense of belonging3. The results of the study showed that breakfast club attendance increased friendship quality, ratings of closeness, helpfulness, companionship and security, and decreased rates of conflict3.
Children who attend breakfast clubs behave better in class, attend school more frequently, demonstrate improved school performance, and exhibit better quality friendships2,3. For most schools, a breakfast club provides far more than just food.
Reports suggest that breakfast skipping is common in the Arab Gulf. Among school-aged children, 44% of UAE students report regularly skipping breakfast4, and only 50% of students in Oman eat breakfast always or most of the time5 – the main reason being that they do not have time before school. Encouraging consumption of a healthy balanced breakfast at home or at school should therefore not be overlooked.
The Abu Dhabi Eat Right Get Active Manual (2010-2011) for schools encourages the education of students and their families about the importance of eating breakfast and the promotion of participation in School Breakfast Program if this is available6. The manual states that “according to research, there is a general increase in math and reading percentile scores in schools that participate in school breakfast programs. Nurses in those schools reported a significant decline in morning complaints of minor headaches and stomach aches, concluding that school breakfast is the reason students are spending less time in their offices and more time in the classroom. Furthermore, the number of students sent to the principal’s office for discipline declined by over 40%.”