How many times when you were a kid did your mom scream after you as you rushed out the door, "Eat something before you go!"? How many times did you ignore her?
Probably a lot, but a new study is going to make you regret not listening to mom, and encourage you to keep up the tradition of nagging your kids about breakfast. Careful research following 1,269 Chinese kids for 12 years found that those who don't eat breakfast had, on average, an IQ five points lower than comparable peers.
Is Cap'n Crunch the secret to raising smart kids?
The savvy consumers of science news among you might immediately object that correlation does not prove causation. Surely, kids who are too poor to afford breakfast or who come from households that are too chaotic to ensure everyone regularly eats in the morning are likely to face a whole lot of other obstacles that might also lower their IQs. Maybe it's that disadvantage rather than the lack of Cheerios that's to blame?
It's a valid question, but the team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing who conducted the study took pains to tease out the effects of a morning meal from other factors, like parents' education and employment.
"Children who ate breakfast regularly had higher IQ scores, even when controlling for socio-demographic factors like a child's gender, parental education, parental occupation, parental marital status, or whether a child resided in a city, suburb, or rural location," reports Penn Today.
The effect of regular breakfast was largest on the verbal portion of IQ scores, suggesting that while the morning calories might be good for the brain, providing a useful hit of energy for cognitive development, in part it could also just be that breakfast table conversation helps kids reach their highest potential.
And if the additional five IQ points wasn't enough to sell you on insisting on breakfast, study author Jianghong Liu insists the practice of sitting down for a morning meal each day is likely to have other positive knock-on benefits for kids.
"If you eat breakfast regularly, you develop good habits, and it helps your long-term overall health," she commented. "Children who eat breakfast regularly are less likely to start other bad habits as teenagers, such as cigarette smoking, lack of exercise, and drug and alcohol abuse."
What kind of breakfast is best?
That leaves one final question. Mom was clearly right: breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but what kind of breakfast is best? While you'll struggle to find a nutritionist who advocates for Cocoa Pops or Pop Tarts over muesli and scrambled eggs, from the perspective of this study, what you serve matters a whole lot less than the fact that your kids consistently eat something in the morning.
"It does not matter what type of breakfast you eat," Liu says. "As long as you eat breakfast, you have a better IQ."
So pass the Cap'n Crunch or opt for an English muffin. Whatever you choose, just make sure your kids are eating breakfast consistently and you'll take one easy but important step to making sure their brains develop to their full potential.