Guest post by Alison Maurice, MSW, child nutrition policy analyst, Food Research & Action Center
Why celebrate the 2017 National School Breakfast Week? School breakfast not only fights hunger and improves young people’s nutrition, but it is a vital tool for improving the academic achievement of your students.
Tight family budgets and hectic morning schedules make eating breakfast before the school day difficult for too many families. The School Breakfast Program plays a critical role in ensuring that your students receive the basic nutrition they need to start the school day ready to learn.
Studies show that students who eat breakfast at school closer to class and test-taking time perform better on standardized tests compared with students who skip breakfast or eat breakfast at home. Additionally, children and adolescents who are experiencing hunger have poorer grades and slower memory recall. Participating in school breakfast allows students to focus on the tasks ahead of them, rather than their empty stomachs.
Hunger can also contribute to student behavioral problems. Research suggests that students who eat school breakfast are less likely to exhibit behavioral and psychological distress and have lower rates of absence and tardiness. Furthermore, schools that are providing school breakfast through after the bell programs—such as “grab and go,” breakfast in the classroom, and second-chance breakfast—have observed fewer behavioral problems requiring disciplinary office referrals, allowing educators to spend more class time on the curriculum.
The School Breakfast Program is an essential tool for ensuring that students have the nutrition needed to thrive academically, but school breakfast helps support health, too! Studies have found that children and adolescents who participate in school breakfast are less likely to be overweight and have more favorable weight outcomes such as a lower body mass index (BMI), an indicator of excess body fat, while skipping breakfast has been associated with a higher risk of obesity in the short and long terms.
The Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) recently released its annual School Breakfast Scorecard: School Year 2015–2016, which further details the benefits of school breakfast, strategies for successfully increasing participation, and state and national participation rates in the program.
Here are a few highlights from the report:
- 12.1 million low-income students participated in the School Breakfast Program on a typical day in the 2015–2016 school year.
- Only 56 low-income students participated in school breakfast for every 100 that participated in school lunch.
- Breakfast after the bell programs increase low-income students’ participation in school breakfast.
While school breakfast participation continues to grow and reach more low-income students than ever before, there are still millions of low-income children missing out on school breakfast. The 2017 National School Breakfast Week offers an important opportunity to celebrate the amazing benefits of school breakfast and to spread the word about successful strategies to increase participation.
Alison Maurice is a child nutrition policy analyst at the Food Research & Action Center.