The annual national school breakfast report released by the Food Research and Action Center finds that, on an average school day in 2013-2014, only 59,787 low-income children in Utah participated in school breakfast, a slight increase from the previous year.
This finding illustrates Utah’s lagging attempts to provide students with a healthy breakfast each day, says Utahns Against Hunger’s Marti Woolford.
The School Breakfast Scorecard measures the success of the School Breakfast Program at the national and state levels. The FRAC report finds that 34.7 low-income children in Utah ate school breakfast on an average day for every 100 that received free or reduced-price lunch during the 2013 – 2014 school year, no change from the 34.3 during the 2012 – 2013 school year.
Nationally, 53 low-income children ate school breakfast for every 100 who also ate school lunch, an increase from the previous school year’s ratio of 52:100 and a large jump from the 43:100 ratio of a decade earlier.
The role of school breakfast in reducing hunger and improving health is critical and growing. Low participation means missed meals for hungry children and missed opportunity for academic and health achievements for Utah. Participation in school breakfast programs does not just reduce student hunger; it also has been linked with: improved overall dietary quality; a lower probability of overweight and obesity; fewer incidences of tardiness, absenteeism, and disciplinary problems; and fewer visits to the school nurse. And there is considerable evidence that enhanced meal quality leads to increased student participation. A positive feedback loop is created as children are drawn to more appealing food choices, while expanded participation levels allow school nutrition departments to take advantage of economies of scale and reduce per-meal costs. Schools then can reinvest those savings in further meal quality improvements.
Increasing participation to 70 low-income children receiving breakfast for every 100 who eat lunch – a goal some states have met – would lead to an additional 60,990 low-income Utah children eating breakfast each day, and an additional $15,523,057 in federal child nutrition funding.
“Good progress is being made, but too many children in Utah are missing out on school breakfast and its benefits for health and education,” said Marti Woolford, a child nutrition advocate with Utahns Against Hunger. “The upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization, continued expansion of Community Eligibility, which allows high-poverty schools to offer free meals, more use of breakfast in the classroom programs and other alternative breakfast models, and continued work at the state level all provide opportunities for policymakers, advocates, state agencies and school districts to work together to make a good program even better for children.”