Two studies of children's breakfast eating habits appear to show that youngsters who eat oatmeal at the start of the day perform better in memory tests.
Researchers from Tufts University carried out two studies to compare the effects on cognitive performance in young children of eating different breakfast foods or no breakfast at all. The first study compared children ages nine to 11 and the most recent study compared children ages six to eight. Both studies found that complex tasks were affected by the difference in breakfast foods consumed by children.
Among children in the younger age group, spatial memory skills - important for subjects such as maths and geography - increased in nearly half of those tested after eating oatmeal for breakfast compared to no breakfast at all. The study also showed that 46 per cent of the children improved their skills when they ate oatmeal rather than cereal, while nearly half of the children performed better when they ate cereal versus no breakfast.
Children in the younger age group also performed better on tests of concentration or attention. Fifty-nine percent of the children did better when they ate oatmeal versus cereal, and 52 per cent did better after eating oatmeal compared to no breakfast.
"By coming to similar conclusions with the six to eight age group, we now have an even better understanding of how nutrition can positively affect a child's ability to learn," said Caroline Busch of Tufts University, one of the study's lead investigators.
"Breakfast consumption is very important to children because critical and complex learning skills are developed at a young age, and these skills are vital to further mental and physical development. If a child has a difficult time learning basic skills, such as writing in cursive or learning to count, they may continue to be at a disadvantage throughout their formative years."
The first study of nine- to 11-year-olds found that 68 per cent of the children in this age group performed better on tasks of spatial memory when they ate oatmeal versus no breakfast. The study also found that 57 per cent of the children performed better when they ate cereal versus no breakfast.
"Oatmeal's whole grain, high fibre and protein attributes are believed to be some of the primary factors that influence spatial memory performance in young children," said Priscilla Samuel, director of the Nutrition Research Programme at Quaker Oats and co-author of the study.
"These nutritional attributes of oatmeal help delay digestion and promote a slower and prolonged release of glucose into the blood system. The improved performance with oatmeal suggests that this process may enhance cognitive performance because the brain is dependent on a constant supply of glucose to satisfy its energy demands."
Both scientific studies were conducted over a three-week timeframe among 30 middle-income, Boston-area students. In both instances, each child participated one day a week over the three-week period. Sixty minutes after breakfast - which consisted of either instant oatmeal, cereal or nothing at all - children began testing, and within two hours after eating, the children completed testing.