The annual national School Breakfast Scorecard released last week by the Food Research and Action Center finds that on an average school day during the 2014-2015 school year, 60,605 low-income children in Utah participated in the School Breakfast Program, an increase of 818 from the previous year.
While this finding places Utah last in the country for school breakfast participation it does not illustrate, according to Utahns Against Hunger, Utah’s current efforts to provide students with a healthy breakfast each day.
The School Breakfast Scorecard measures the success of the School Breakfast Program at the national and state levels. The FRAC report found that on average 34.8 low-income children in Utah ate school breakfast for every 100 that received free or reduced-price lunch. Last year’s school breakfast participation increased 1.4% from the 2013-2014 school year but still ranked well below the national average of 54 low-income children who ate school breakfast for every 100 who ate school lunch.
A growing body of research shows that when children participate in the School Breakfast Program, it leads to improved dietary intake, reduced food insecurity, better test performance, and fewer distractions in the classroom. Not only are students missing out on these important benefits, but Utah’s low participation also means missed federal nutrition dollars. Increasing participation to 70 children receiving breakfast for every 100 who eat lunch – a goal some states have met – would lead to an additional 61,307 low-income Utah children eating breakfast each day, and an additional $16,079,276 in federal child nutrition funding for the state.
There is an effort underway in Utah to increase participation in the School Breakfast Program. The Utah Breakfast Expansion Team (UBET) was formed by Utahns Against Hunger in 2014 with the goal of improving Utah’s consistently poor participation in the School Breakfast Program. UBET is comprised of both private and public partners. The team is currently working on two strategies to increase breakfast participation. The first is the creation of a Utah School Breakfast Report outlining best practices for schools to improve participation. Reports of this kind have been used in many states and have proven to be an effective tool for promoting breakfast expansion. UBET’s second strategy is the collection of data through a survey probing parent’s attitudes and beliefs about the School Breakfast Program. The Utah School Breakfast Report will be released in spring 2016 and the parent survey will be administered during the same time.
“Utah is below the national average in its rate of school breakfast participation among low-income students. Utah and its school districts need to consider implementing alternative breakfast models to make breakfast more accessible and to increase participation. Until this is done our students are missing out on the valuable impact breakfast has on health, educational achievement, and attendance,” said Marti Woolford, an advocate with Utahns Against Hunger. “Improving participation rates in breakfast is an obtainable goal and will lead to healthier and hunger-free children.”