Breakfast Matters: Simplicity of Cereal And Milk Can Deliver Numerous Benefits

Posted by Lana Frantzen, PHD @ 1:51 PM


San Antonio is the city I grew up in and I have an affinity for the culture and vibrance San Antonio offers.  Along with this beauty, however, there is also a challenge in this city faced by many other cities across our nation:  childhood obesity. In fact, 1 in 3 American children are overweight or obese and at-risk for chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.  Even further, childhood obesity is more common among minority children and children living in low-income homes.  For this reason, I embarked with my research team to investigate the impact of breakfast choice on nutrient intakes and body mass index among low-income minority children living in San Antonio, TX. 

Our research specifically examined the association of ready-to-eat cereal with milk on nutrition and health measures. Of the 625 children evaluated at baseline, 78 percent were Hispanic and 12 percent were African American.  Seventy-seven percent of these children were eligible for the national free and reduced price school meal program.  We followed these children for three years from the 4th through the 6th grades.

There were three main findings:

  • We found that breakfast consumption decreased as children progressed in grade level.  Sixty-four percent ate breakfast in the 4th grade then declined to 42 percent by the 6th grade.  This finding is of concern because of the following two additional findings.
  • Children who ate ready-to-eat cereal with milk had improved nutrient intakes of three of the four “nutrients of public health concern,” specifically calcium, potassium and vitamin D (as well as riboflavin, vitamins B3 and B12, iron, zinc and decreased cholesterol intake).  Milk is the #1 food source of these same nutrients of concern in children’s diets.  Cereals are typically fortified with vitamins and minerals and milk provides nine essential nutrients, creating a powerful nutrient-dense breakfast choice that delivers essential nutrients for every calorie consumed!
  • This leads to the third finding that frequently eating a simple breakfast of cereal and milk was associated with a reduced body mass index over the cumulative three-year period.

These findings further stand out with the knowledge that, on average, one eight-ounce glass of milk and one serving of RTEC each costs about 20 cents.

Outside of the home, the school breakfast program offers nutrient-rich foods such as low-fat and fat-free dairy, whole grains, fruits, and lean proteins that are especially important as a simple, cost-effective means to help address food security issues and some research indicates may impact children’s nutrition and learning.

Poor nutrition and unhealthy weight may not only lead to poor academic achievement in children, but also hard costs for individuals, schools and society at large.  It is clear that child nutrition must be a priority for our society’s future well-being. Breakfast matters for children as a way for them to nourish their bodies and their brains!

The big picture take away from our research is:

You can read the full text of our research here and you can access the full infographic shown above here: Breakfast Matters Infographic.

Also, to read more about the “learning connection,” the science-based concept that improved nutrition, including breakfast, coupled with increased physical activity can help lead to better academic performance, take a look at NDC President Jean Ragalie’s, RD, post on The Wellness Impact: Enhancing Academic Success through Healthy School Environments.

* average of the top 3 cereals consumed in the study

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