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August 7, 2007

Jennifer Adach, (202) 986-2200 x3018

Back-to-School Time Approaching, But Breakfast Not On the Schedule for Many Students

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  • Washington, D.C. – August 7, 2007 – Pens and notebooks are essential supplies for the school day, but so is a healthy breakfast. Yet, breakfast participation rates in some of America's largest cities, including Chicago, Denver, and New York, badly lag the national average, and nearly half of the of urban districts studied (11 out of 23) fail to provide breakfast on a daily basis to a majority of their low-income students.

    In Breakfast in America's Big Cities, the Food Research and Action Center surveyed 23 large school districts, which were selected on the basis of size and geographic representation. The survey found that school strategies that make breakfast part of the school day were the most effective ways to reach children. These strategies include universal breakfast, where all children can eat regardless of income, "grab and go" breakfast from carts in the hallway, and breakfast in the classroom. According to the report, the five school districts — Portland, Newark, Minneapolis, Detroit, and Los Angeles — that most heavily used these options served an average of 72.5 low-income students with breakfast for every 100 low-income students that ate school lunch during the 2005-06 school year.

    "We need to reach more children with breakfast. It's a fast and long-lasting way to improve children's learning and behavior, foster healthy eating habits, reduce school nurse visits, and end hunger," said Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). “By making it an essential part of the school day, we see that more children participate and have a healthy start to their day."

    Numerous studies have shown that breakfast improves learning and attendance, and reduces behavior problems and visits to the school nurse. Beyond the positive impact on learning, breakfast improves children’s diets and helps build healthy habits. Over the past 20 years, obesity rates have doubled among children and tripled among adolescents. Children who start the day with breakfast are less likely to be obese.

    School breakfast participation was far lower in districts that only used these methods in just a few schools: They reached just 46.1 low-income students with breakfast for every 100 that ate lunch. And, the remaining seven districts that did not use any of these methods reached only 44.2 low-income students out of every 100 that ate lunch.

    "The first day of school is fast approaching. Now is the key time for school districts to think about the school year and plan ways to improve participation," added Weill.

    School districts identified a number of barriers to student participation, many of which could be addressed with more flexible breakfast options. A vast majority of districts found that time was a factor — from students not having enough time in the morning to eat, to tight bus schedules that get students to school too late to participate.

    Low participation means that these school districts also are missing out on the opportunity to access additional federal funding. For each day a low-income child missed out on breakfast, the school lost $1.27 in federal nutrition funding for every child who would have received a free breakfast, and $0.97 for every child who would have received a reduced-price breakfast. FRAC estimated that if each surveyed district was able to reach 70 low-income children with breakfast for every 100 that received free and reduced-price lunch, more than 578,785 additional students would have eaten a healthy school breakfast every day in the 21 districts below this level, and districts would have received an additional $129.4 million in federal child nutrition funding.

    About the report:
    For this report, FRAC surveyed 23 large urban school districts across the country on school breakfast participation rates and policies. FRAC measures the reach of the School Breakfast Program by comparing the number of low-income children that participate in breakfast to those that receive free and reduced-price school lunch. The full report can be accessed at www.frac.org/pdf/urbanbreakfast07.pdf.

    School Meals Chart
    (Click here for larger version)

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    The Food Research and Action Center (www.frac.org) is the leading national organization working for more effective public and private policies to eradicate domestic hunger and undernutrition.

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