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Physiol Behav. 2012 Jun 25;106(4):548-55. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2012.03.034. Epub 2012 Apr 4.

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

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Brain Function Laboratory, Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center, Little Rock, AR 72202, USA.


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 or reflect 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 greater 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.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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