The Effects of Breakfast and Breakfast Composition on Cognition in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review

Adv Nutr. 2016 May 16;7(3):590S-612S. doi: 10.3945/an.115.010256. Print 2016 May.


Breakfast is thought to be beneficial for cognitive and academic performance in school children. However, breakfast is the most frequently skipped meal, especially among adolescents. The aim of the current article was to systematically review the evidence from intervention studies for the effects of breakfast on cognitive performance in children and adolescents. The effects of breakfast were evaluated by cognitive domain and breakfast manipulation. A total of 45 studies reported in 43 articles were included in the review. Most studies considered the acute effect of a single breakfast (n = 34). The acute studies looked at breakfast compared with no breakfast (n = 24) and/or comparisons of breakfast type (n = 15). The effects of chronic school breakfast program interventions were evaluated in 11 studies. The findings suggest that breakfast consumption relative to fasting has a short-term (same morning) positive domain-specific effect on cognition. Tasks requiring attention, executive function, and memory were facilitated more reliably by breakfast consumption relative to fasting, with effects more apparent in undernourished children. Firm conclusions cannot be made about the acute effects of breakfast composition and the effects of chronic breakfast interventions because there are too few studies and these largely report inconsistent findings. This review also highlights methodologic limitations of the existing research. These include a lack of research on adolescents, few naturalistic breakfast manipulations or testing environments, small samples, and insensitive cognitive tests.

Keywords: adolescents; breakfast; children; cognitive performance; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attention
  • Breakfast*
  • Child
  • Cognition*
  • Diet
  • Executive Function
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Memory
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic