Many parents hate to see their children skip breakfast before sending them off in the morning. Reason tells them that in order to maximize learning in school, children's bodies need plenty of fuel. A recent study indicates that parents' intuition may be correct: Well-fed children make more progress in school than children who leave home with their stomachs empty.
Children are more vulnerable than adults to missing a meal. The brain of a child is not just a scaled down version of an adult brain. It is larger in proportion to his or her body. Though the brain makes up only one-fiftieth of a child's body mass, it uses about half of the body's stores of energy. It is also changing rapidly: Nerve cells are growing and cell connections are adjusting rapidly in response to the environment. All of this increases the brain's demand for energy.
Our understanding of food intake and mental ability comes from studies of the effect of starvation. We know that severe food deprivation is a huge problem for intellectual growth. But these studies don't tell us much about the impact of missing a single meal. And we tend to worry more about the consequences of obesity in the United States, so we may consider a missed meal here and there a good thing.
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