Half of girls skip breakfast, risking their health and harming school performance

GIRLS are more likely to skip breakfast than boys, according to a survey of more than 6,000 children across Scotland.

Researchers found over half of 15-year-old girls regularly miss the crucial first meal of the day, while almost two-thirds of boys the same age said they ate breakfast.

However, the research team from Edinburgh University discovered that girls were far more likely to eat fruit and vegetables while boys were more likely to eat chips, biscuits and white bread.

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The study showed that eating breakfast also appeared to have an impact on young people's health and performance.

The survey, carried out in 300 schools and funded by NHS Health Scotland, also found that pupils who skipped breakfast every day were more likely to consume sugary drinks and snacks such as sweets and crisps.

Researchers found that pupils who ate breakfast every day were more likely to rate their school performance as "good" or "very good" and their health as "excellent" or "good".

Consumption of breakfast was also found to decrease as pupils grow older. About 80 per cent of boys aged 11 and about a quarter of 11-year-old girls said they ate first thing in the morning. By the time they were 15, just 58 per cent of boys and 44.8 per cent of girls were eating breakfast. Some 6,400 pupils in primary seven and in the second and third year of high school were questioned.

There were no gender differences in the consumption of sweets or crisps, however, with more than a quarter of children aged 11-15 consuming these daily.

Researchers also found a link between the consumption of fruit or vegetables and participation in physical activity. Among both boys and girls, those eating fruit or vegetables once a day or more were more likely to meet the seven-days-a-week physical activity guideline than those eating them less than once a day.

Researcher Jo Kirby, of the University of Edinburgh's Child and Adolescent Health Research Unit, said: "This paper highlights the importance of young people's nutrition in relation to wellbeing, positive health behaviours and school performance.

"Gender and age differences are apparent in food choices, with young people already engaging in less healthy eating patterns appearing to be most at risk.

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"Interventions to promote breakfast consumption and fruit and vegetable intake should especially be targeted at adolescents in Scotland."

The survey is part of "Health Behaviour In School-Aged Children" research, an international survey by the World Health Organisation involving about 40 countries in Europe and North America.

Controversy flared in December when it emerged that the Scottish Government was ditching a pledge to provide free school meals for all P1 to P3 pupils.

Churches, union leaders and charities have urged education minister Mike Russell to review the surprise decision, which was made to allow local authorities to free-up cash to help them lower class sizes.

He said it would allow councils to target free school meals at their most deprived areas.