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Kids, good news! Pizza can improve your grades

Junk food makes you smarter, at least in the short term.

A study released Tuesday by University of Florida suggests that schools offering high-calorie lunches on days when standardized exams are administered do better on the tests than schools serving healthier lunches on those days.

"There exists a well-established link between nutrition and short-term cognitive functioning," the study's co-author, David Figlio, wrote.

The study compared nutritional content of school lunch menus from 23 random districts in Virginia on days of state-mandated tests against nontest days during the 1999-2000 academic year.

It linked high-calorie, low-nutrition meals with schools that faced possible state sanctions for underachievement. A 110-calorie bump over the regular lunch menu in those troubled schools increased passing scores by 11 percent in math, 6 percent in English and 6 percent in social studies over schools offering lower-calorie menus on the same days.

Previous studies have shown that the energy boost that comes from consuming glucose or empty calories has given students a short-term learning advantage.

Several Tampa Bay area school districts say they don't try to pump up students with any "nutrient jolt," but they do offer free breakfast or snacks before important tests. Hernando County's snack is something like orange juice, said Mary Wolf, food and nutrition director, and the breakfast is for schools that usually do not offer morning meals.

Students in Citrus County also get a free breakfast on big test days _ usually cheese toast, muffins or cereal and milk _ even if they don't normally qualify for free meals.

Hillsborough County schools have long recognized the connection between student testing and food.

Five years ago they began offering free breakfasts to all students during state achievement tests. This year, however, they took the initiative further and began offering free breakfasts to all students year-round.

_ Times staff writers Melanie Ave, Jeffrey Solochek and Barbara Behrendt contributed to this report.