Funding Application for Breakfast Provisions in School

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1. Background

School-situated breakfast programmes offer a promising remedy for two major health and social issues facing today's children: dietary behaviour and educational accomplishment. Furthermore, they may provide opportunities to redress social inequities within these outcomes (Moore et al., 2007a). An application is therefore presented for financial support to institute breakfast provision within our school.

2. Rationale

Although available evidence can be confusing and contradictory, research identifies the following potential benefits for children who habitually eat a nutritionally balanced breakfast:

A lower body mass index than infrequent breakfast consumers (Hansen & Joshi, 2008).

A greater likelihood of meeting daily nutrient intake guidelines (Sjöberg et al., 2003).

Higher micronutrient ingestion and an enhanced macronutrient profile (Ruxton & Kirk, 1997).

A lower likelihood of snacking on confectionary and other nutritionally inappropriate foods (Quigley et al., 2007).

An increased learning capacity due to alleviating short-term hunger (Grantham-McGregor, 2005).

A heightened sense of subjective awareness, alertness and motivation (Dye & Blundell, 2002).

A lower risk of subsequent cardiovascular disease (Truswell, 2002).

An improvement on a limited selection of short-term cognitive and behavioural outcomes, including problem-solving, concentration and episodic memory (Ells et al., 2008).

As demonstrated, habitual breakfast consumption may contribute to enhancing children's primary health, well-being and nutritional status; factors known to influence scholastic potential (Taras, 2005). Optimal nutrition is crucial for children given their high cerebral blood flow, rapid growth, high metabolic turnover, and the importance of cognitive utility for educational performance (Hoyland et al., 2009). Furthermore, overnight fasting wields greater stress on glycogen levels in children than in adults (Chugani, 1998), making a morning meal an important candidate for supplying energy and modulating neurohormonal and metabolic processes (Pollitt, 1995). Within a household, children characteristically have the lengthiest periods without nutritional intake between an evening meals/supper and subsequent breakfast (Pollitt, 1995). Yet according to Pivik and Dykman (2007), the brains of pre-adolescent children are sensitive to subtle changes in acute nutritional adequacy, with extended overnight fasting adversely affecting certain task-related cognitive processes, including decision determination and response implementation. Nevertheless, despite the advantages associated with breakfast consumption, it is the most commonly missed meal among children (Elgar et al., 2005).

3. Breakfast Clubs

A central part of our funding bid are the advantages entailed through the provision of a school-based 'Breakfast Club', which we anticipate operating before the school day commences in order to avoid compromising teaching and classroom contact time. These programmes are associated with a range of positive educational outcomes (specifically higher attendance/reduced absenteeism; Rampersaud et al., 2005) although evidence suggests they may also positively impact on such cognitive domains and processes as memory (Vera-Noriega et al., 2000); sustained concentration (Shemilt et al., 2004); psychomotor aptitude (Belderson et al., 2001) and problem-solving proficiency (particularly arithmetic; Worobey & Worobey, 1999). These benefits are not limited to cognitive domains, with research suggesting school breakfast programmes may also be associated with improvements in classroom behaviour, including hyperactivity, (Benton & Jarvis, 2007), conduct problems and pro-social behaviour (Bro et al., 1994). Indeed, longitudinal research suggests that school breakfast initiatives are a viable means of enhancing scholastic achievement (Kleinman et al., 2002).

Admittedly, the precise nature of this effect is unclear (i.e., whether as a consequence of enhanced nutritional status, or by virtue of improved enrollment and attendance; Grantham-McGregor, 2005). However, because our school is situated in a catchment of high disadvantage and deprivation, our rationale is also guided by the consideration that promoting healthy breakfast behaviours may subsequently address social inequalities in health and education. The impact of overnight fasting on cognitive performance appears to be more marked in undernourished children, charactistically those from deprived areas (Pollitt et al., 1998). Yet research has indicated a marked social gradient in habitual breakfast habits, with children from disadvantaged communities significantly more likely to consume nutritionally inadequate breakfasts, or to forego them entirely (Moore et al., 2007b). Furthermore, the fact that customary dietary behaviours acquired in childhood may proceed into adult life (along with their deleterious health outcomes; Mikkila et al., 2004) means our proposed intervention has potential to be an effective long-term means of advancing population health.

4. Breakfast composition

At present, inconsistent research around portions/composition prohibits specific recommendations for a precise breakfast to optimise cognitive performance (Hoyland et al., 2009). However, given that school meal programmes make substantial contributions to student's diets (in that participating children are more likely to meet government dietary recommendations; Condon et al., 2009) we request the provision of nutritionally appropriate foods, such as low-fat milk, fresh fruit and wholegrains. This is an important consideration, given that exposure to healthful food at a young age enhances the intrinsic rewards associated with their consumption (Sullivan & Birch, 1990). However, we also emphasise palatability in view of its potential impact both on (i) acceptability and (ii) affective, behavioural and cognitive reactions (Greenhalgh et al., 2007). Finally, we advocate solid breakfasts as more beneficial than liquid ones (e.g., glucose drinks), due to differing rates of gastric clearing (Wesnes et al., 2003).

5. Conclusions

Despite some inadequacies and inconsistencies in available research, evidence suggests that, compared with breakfast omission, breakfast consumption has advantageous effects on cognitive performance (Hoyland et al., 2009), dietary habits (Quigley et al., 2007), overall nutritional adequacy (Nicklas et al., 1993) and classroom behaviour (Ofsted, 2006). Furthermore, evidence for breakfast's contribution to enhancing academic and cognitive performance is consistent for both short-term administration and long-term school breakfast programmes (Hoyland et al., 2009). Finally, there is good reason to suggest that these latter initiatives have an important role to play in addressing social inequalities in nutritional adequacy and academic accomplishment. The importance of promoting the physical and cognitive potential of our students, as well as their dietary improvement, thus enforces our request for funding breakfast provision.