Breakfast Positively Impacts Cognitive Function in College Students With and Without ADHD

Am J Health Promot. 2020 Jul;34(6):668-671. doi: 10.1177/0890117120903235. Epub 2020 Feb 4.


Purpose: To compare the effects of a nutritionally balanced breakfast on cognitive function in college students with and without attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Design: Pre-post dietary intervention.

Setting: University.

Sample: College students aged 18 to 25 years with (n = 19) and without (n = 27) ADHD.

Intervention: Participants completed computerized cognitive assessment after an overnight fast and again 1 hour after consuming a nutritionally balanced breakfast shake.

Measure: CNS Vital Signs computerized cognitive testing.

Analysis: Chi-square tests were used to compare categorical variables, and nonparametric Wilcoxon rank sum and signed rank tests were used to compare continuous data between and within groups (respectively). Multivariable logistic regression was used to estimate the likelihood of ADHD based on cognitive improvement from breakfast consumption, after adjusting for age, sex, GPA, and year in school.

Results: A significant proportion of those with and without ADHD (47% and 33%, respectively) reported not typically eating breakfast at baseline. One hour after consuming a balanced breakfast shake, both groups demonstrated improvements in 4 cognitive function domains. Those with ADHD were more likely to improve in reaction time than those without ADHD (odds ratio [95% confidence interval] = 1.07 [1.00-1.15], P = .04).

Conclusions: The results of this pilot study suggest that college students with and without ADHD may benefit cognitively from a balanced breakfast. More research is needed to confirm these findings.

Keywords: ADHD; breakfast; cognitive function; college students.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity*
  • Breakfast*
  • Cognition*
  • Humans
  • Pilot Projects
  • Students*
  • Universities
  • Young Adult