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School Breakfast Boosts Children’s Health and Learning

The importance of the National School Breakfast Program cannot be overstated. Studies consistently show thatchildren who start the day with a nutritious breakfast are more likely to perform better in school and build lifelong healthy eating habits. Children who eat school breakfast show increased concentration and class participation, improved test scores, and fewer absences and discipline issues. Eating breakfast also protects against obesity and other negative health outcomes.

Hungry learners

For too many families, however, there are obstacles to providing a healthy morning meal each day. Tight household budgets and busy morning schedules can mean that many students arrive at school hungry and not ready to learn. The School Breakfast Program plays a crucial role in filling this void for millions of low-income children every school day, and in ensuring all students have the opportunity to excel in the classroom.

The Food Research & Action Center’s annual School Breakfast Scorecard reveals that on an average school day, 12.2 million low-income children participated in the School Breakfast Program during the 2016–2017 school year. Progress is being made, but still too many low-income children are missing out on the most important meal of the day — the report finds that just over half of the low-income children who participated in school lunch also participated in school breakfast.

Improving circumstances

Community eligibility, a program that has allowed over 20,000 high-poverty schools to offer free breakfast to all students, and breakfast after the bell programs, such as breakfast in the classroom, that move breakfast out of the cafeteria and after the first bell, have been instrumental in increasing school breakfast participation. These proven strategies overcome barriers of timing, convenience, and stigma associated with school breakfast as being before school, in the cafeteria, and only for low-income children. As more schools adopt these best practices, more children will participate in school breakfast.

James D. Weill, President, Food Research and Action Center, [email protected]

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