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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center

Title: Eating breakfast enhances the efficiency of neural networks engaged during mental arithmetic in school-aged children

item Pivik, Rudolph
item Tennal, Kevin
item Chapman, Stephen
item Gu, Yuyuan

Submitted to: Physiology and Behavior
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/27/2012
Publication Date: 4/4/2012
Citation: Pivik, R.T., Tennal, K., Chapman, S.D., Gu, Y.M. 2012. Eating breakfast enhances the efficiency of neural networks engaged during mental arithmetic in school-aged children. Physiology and Behavior. 106(4):548-555.

Interpretive Summary: This study examined how eating or skipping breakfast affects brain processes involved in doing mental arithmetic in healthy 8-11 year old children. We measured changes in the amounts (power) of low frequency brain electrical activity children used in solving simple addition problems first when they were fasting, and again after they had either eaten or skipped breakfast. Power values increased in children who skipped breakfast compared with those who ate breakfast, suggesting less efficient brain function and greater mental effort required to do the math in children who skipped breakfast.

Technical Abstract: To determine the influence of a morning meal on complex mental functions in children (8-11 y), time-frequency analyses were applied to electroencephalographic (EEG) activity recorded while children solved simple addition problems after an overnight fast and again after having either eaten or skipped breakfast. Power of low frequency EEG activity [2 hertz (Hz) bands in the 2-12 Hz range] was determined from recordings over frontal and parietal brain regions associated with mathematical thinking during mental calculation of correctly answered problems. Analyses were adjusted for background variables known to influence the development of mathematical skills, i.e., age and measures of math competence and math fluency. Relative to fed children those who continued to fast showed greater power increases in upper theta (6-8 Hz) and both alpha bands (8-10 Hz; 10-12 Hz) across sites. Increased theta suggests increased demands on working memory. Increased alpha may facilitate task-essential activity by suppressing non-task-essential activity. Fasting children also had greater delta (2-4 Hz) and greater lower-theta (4-6 Hz) power in left frontal recordings—indicating a region-specific emphasis on both working memory for mental calculation (theta) and activation of processes that suppress interfering activity (delta). Fed children also showed a significant increase in correct responses while children who continued to fast did not. Taken together the findings suggest that neural network activity involved in processing numerical information is functionally enhanced and performance is improved in children who have eaten breakfast, whereas greater mental effort is required for this mathematical thinking in children who skip breakfast.

Last Modified: 06/22/2017
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