This study examined the nutritional intake of 9–11 year old children in Wales, UK, to assess the rationale for, and potential of, school breakfast initiatives. It also examined the possible unintended consequence of over consumption.
The study employed a cross-sectional observational design within a randomized controlled trial of a free school breakfast programme. A total of 111 primary schools were randomly assigned to an intervention condition (in which a free school breakfast programme was implemented) or a control condition (in which implementation of the scheme was delayed). Sub-samples of children completed multiple-pass 24-hr dietary recall interviews at baseline (n = 581), and 12 months later (n = 582). Deprivation was assessed for each child in terms of whether or not they were entitled to free school meals.
Prior to the introduction of the programme, rates of breakfast skipping were low and there was little evidence of widespread nutritional deficiency. However, there was a subset of children who consumed inadequate levels of a range of vitamins and minerals and 29 % of children ate very little for breakfast (less than 100 kcal). Children that ate larger breakfasts, had higher daily intakes of all nutrients that were examined. Children from deprived backgrounds consumed significantly lower levels of several vitamins and minerals at breakfast. Following the introduction of the breakfast scheme in intervention schools, there was little difference in the nutritional quality of school versus home breakfasts (n = 35 and 211 respectively). Where children ate breakfast at both school and home (n = 33), their overall energy intake was higher, but not significantly so.
Although the overall diet of this group of children was generally good prior to the breakfast scheme, the results suggest that such schemes could be beneficial for a subset of children who are poorly nourished and for those children who consume very little for breakfast.Trial registrationCurrent Controlled Trials ISRCTN18336527