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Kids will be kids … even if they skip breakfast?

Kids always get bugged by their parents to eat breakfast, so that they can do well in school. But does breakfast consumption actually impact cognition in this population?

Study under review: Breakfast consumption has no effect on neuropsychological functioning in children: a repeated measures clinical trial

Introduction

Childhood is an important time in the cognitive development[1] of the human brain and is a key stage in the establishment of adult cognitive abilities. There is therefore considerable scientific interest in determining a child’s optimal dietary requirements that will enhance and assist cognitive development. Specifically, this includes parameters such as the quantity, quality, timing, and macronutrient components of every meal, which in theory could contribute to how a child’s brain develops. In particular, medical and government healthy diet guidelines[2] suggest having breakfast first thing in the morning. Consumption of a nutritious breakfast is recommended as this has been positively associated[3] with benefits on the physical and mental status of children[4] and adults[5].

Several researchers, however, have suggested that fasting bestows even greater benefits on whole systems within the body. Fasting is a form of calorie restriction and may reduce inflammation[6] and oxidative stress[7], as well as improve cognitive functioning[8] and mood[9]. As a metabolic challenge[10], fasting forces cells to use fatty acids from adipose tissue as an alternative energy source to glycogen stores.

The breakdown of fatty acids into molecules known as ketones is associated with many beneficial effects. Research[11] shows that ketones boost energy levels in the brain and appear to modulate many signaling pathways that can prevent cellular dysfunction[12]. In addition, animal data has also shown that neurodegeneration[13] may even be prevented. However, the question remains whether fasting in children would improve cognitive function.

Previous analyses of academic performance markers in children have several shortcomings, including differences in parameters such as calories, volume of food provided, and macronutrient composition of breakfasts studied. A recently published study sought to clarify this in the form of a crossover clinical trial that included an extensive array of neuropsychological examinations.

To support cognitive development during childhood, breakfast consumption is generally recommended by most medical and government guidelines. However, fasting in theory also has many benefits and it is unclear whether breakfast or fasting should be recommended for children.

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