Toronto study links breakfast with school success

A two-year program that provided a healthy breakfast to 6,000 Toronto students says there is a direct link between nutrition and improved marks.

'We will do all we can to continue nutrition programs'

Students take part in a nutrition program at a school in Toronto. (Breakfast for Learning handout/Canadian Press)

A study released Friday by the Toronto District School Board, shows that giving children a nutritious breakfast each morning has a direct effect on their academic performance.

The two-year study, Feeding Our Future, followed 6,000 Toronto students.  It found those who were fed properly had improved marks and better behaviour. 

"This is a groundbreaking piece of research," said Catherine Parsonage, co-chair of the Canadian Child and Youth Nutrition Program Network.

Parsonage is also the executive director of the Toronto Foundation for Student Success, the group which along with the TDSB studied how nutrition affects student behaviour and academic success.

"In our elementary schools [Education Quality and Accountability Office] tests are showing huge improvements in reading, mathematics and particularly science," said Parsonage.

Grade 7 and 8 students who ate a healthy breakfast at school "achieved or exceeded provincial reading standards by a rate 10 per cent higher than those who did not have breakfast," the school board said in a news release.

Edward White Chacon is one of the students who has benefited from the study. 

"When I get up I have to fix my hair, pick out my outfit, sometimes I do homework so there's no time [for breakfast]," he said.

For the past two years he's been a big fan of the food program at Toronto's Emery Collegiate.  He says it helps him concentrate, keeps him from getting angry and it's pumped up his marks.

"I've been getting in the 60s, high 60s, sometimes low 60s. But now I have a 79," he said.

According to the study, 78 per cent of students who ate breakfast on most days were on-track for graduation compared to 61 per cent of students who ate breakfast only on a few days or not at all.

The study authors say it's the first of its kind in Canada to provide proof that when students are hungry, it's hard to learn.

"This is tremendous work that highlights the importance of working with our provincial and municipal partners so that all students can succeed. We will do all we can to continue nutrition programs wherever it is needed," said TSB chair Chris Bolton in a statement released to the media.

Currently there is a patchwork of school food programs across the country. But armed with the new data lobby groups say they'll now push for a national strategy to provide free, healthy food to all Canadian students.