Reading scores higher for children who eat lunch

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Researchers found a nearly 20 percent increase in test scores when children had a midday meal

While many factors can contribute to children’s performance in school, a recent study highlighted the importance of children eating lunch.

Researchers from ESMT Berlin found that children who ate lunch regularly every day performed better on reading and math tests.

Academic and nutrition benefits

The researchers examined a free school lunch program in India -- the largest in the world -- that feeds over 120 million children every day. The data covered over 200,000 families across 600 rural districts over the course of five years.

The biggest takeaway for the researchers was the students’ impressive leap in test scores. The children who had gotten school lunch consistently over five years had nearly 20 percent higher scores on reading tests and roughly 10 percent higher scores on math tests.

“The effect of nutrition appears to be cumulative, seen over time,” said Professor Rajshri Jayaraman. “Previous studies have varied between two weeks and two years, and failed to capture the importance impact -- our research shows that the real benefit of school lunches was seen in children exposed for two to five years.”

The researchers note that this is both the largest and longest study on nutrition’s effect on education, and they are hopeful that these findings drive home how important it is for children to receive proper nutrition midday at school.

Eating before school, too

While midday eating is crucial for children, experts have long advocated for children eating before school, too. Eating a healthy breakfast is important for children’s performance at school -- and for their overall health and well-being.

Experts suggest that parents plan ahead for their children’s breakfast and ensure that the meal is full of nutrients that will keep them healthy and full until lunchtime.

“Growing bodies and developing brains need regular, healthy meals,” said Food and Drug Administration (FDA) dietician Carole Adler.

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