The importance of breakfast for students

Nasi uduk: A popular breakfast dish in Indonesia (Shutterstock/Ariyani Tedjo)

Indonesia has celebrated national breakfast week on Feb. 14-20 each year since 2013. This event was initiated in a Healthy Breakfasts National Symposium in 2012, attended by 225 nutritionists, food experts and health practitioners from all over Indonesia. The week was chosen because Feb. 20 was the birthday of Prof. Poerwo Soedarmo, who was acknowledged as Indonesia’s Father of Nutrition. It was decided to celebrate the occasion for a week, so it is not limited to a weekday or weekend.

Breakfast is an important part of our daily activities. After the body fasts for about eight hours during sleep, our body needs food to fuel its daily activities. Many studies showed the importance of breakfast for human productivity, especially for students, as breakfast can support a child's ability to concentrate on learning. Enough energy will help children concentrate and better follow their school activities.

In Indonesia, the Health Ministerial Decree No. 41/2014 concerning guidelines for balanced nutrition emphasizes the importance of breakfast into one of the specific messages of balanced nutrition for school children. Breakfast contains 15 to 30 percent of our body’s nutritional needs for the day, which should ideally be consumed before 9 a.m. This is to prevent our body from fasting for too long and so it will be ready to go through the day.

In 2016 and 2017, the Education and Culture Ministry launched a school meal program (Progas) to improve the quality of education and student learning achievements through providing nutrition education, increasing nutrition intake through healthy breakfasts and character-building. This was done by providing breakfast for students in elementary and secondary schools three times a week. The meals should contain at least 25 to 30 percent of the children’s total energy needs or 400 to 500 kilocalories (kcal) of energy and 10 to 12 grams of protein. 

Despite the many benefits of breakfast, not many students are aware of the importance of the morning meal and not many take the time to have it.

Breakfast practices in Southeast Asia vary between nations. In Brunei, researchers Tok Chen Yun, Siti Rohaiza Ahmad and David Koh Soo Quee found that more than half (51.4 percent) of university students skip breakfast. Meanwhile, in Singapore, 33.9 percent of school children aged 12-15 years old did not have adequate breakfast or any breakfast at all. A prospective cohort study in Malaysia found that 12 percent of adolescents aged 13 years old never ate breakfast. Having regular breakfasts was associated with a slightly lower body-mass index (BMI) and LDL cholesterol concentration among subjects. 

The 2014 Indonesian Individual Food Consumption Survey showed quite alarming results. One-third of children aged 5-12 years have a very low energy intake (less than the 70 percent energy adequacy rate) and very low protein intake (less than the 80 percent protein adequacy rate).

In the long term, this certainly affects the nutritional status of children. The latest national survey shows the major problem of undernourished children under 5. The 2018 Basic Health Survey (Riskesdas) 2018 shows that the rate of wasting in children under-5 is as high as 10.2 percent and stunting as high as 30.8 percent. Although these figures have decreased, they are is still far from the stunting reduction target set by the President, which is 19 percent by 2024.

The data is in line with our findings in 2018. We found that among high school and vocational high school students in Malang, East Java, less than half of the students (45.5 percent) ate breakfast daily. This study aimed at evaluating the Nutrition Goes to School (NGTS) program and improving the nutritional status and health, physical endurance and cognitive function of adolescents.

The NGTS program was carried out in the form of strengthening nutrition education among adolescents, improving school canteens and nutrition gardens, strengthening information systems and improving school policies in intervention groups. 

After about 10 months of intervention, even though the difference was not significant, it appeared that the proportion of students who had breakfast every day improved in the group (48.9 percent) and who received a full course of the NGTS program compared to students in the control group who received basic nutrition education (39.8 percent).

Additionally, students in the full-course NGTS program have significantly better short-term memories compared to their peers. It indicates that the intervention provided had a positive effect on the students’ breakfast habits.

This fact highlights the importance of continuous nutritional education and the improvement of a nutritious environment at schools to increase not just students’ breakfast habits but also their school performance.

***

Nutritionist, graduated from Clinical and Public Health Nutrition at University College London. Currently work as a knowledge management officer at the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization-Regional Center for Food and Nutrition.

Original article can be found at: https://www.thejakartapost.com/academia/2020/02/20/the-importance-of-breakfast-for-students.html


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