Children who have access to free breakfast at school do not have an increased risk of obesity even though they are more likely going to eat what many consider the most important meal of the day, a new study found.
For this study, the researchers from the Institute for Education and Social Policy at New York University and the Center for Policy Research at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs examined the effects that a free school meal offered in the classroom would have on children's participation and obesity rates.
"Moving breakfast into the classroom is intended to encourage participation in school breakfast programs, particularly among students unable to arrive early, and to reduce the stigma associated with a trip to the cafeteria," said Amy Ellen Schwartz, director of the NYU Institute for Education and Social Policy.
Schwartz, who is also the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Chair in Public Affairs at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, and colleagues examined data taken from the New York City Department of Education and its Office of School Food. New York City has been offering free breakfast in the classroom since 2007. Since public schools started providing free meals in the classroom, the participation rate skyrocketed from 25 percent to 80 percent, the City Department of Education said.
The researchers analyzed school breakfast and lunch participation and the heights and weights of children between kindergarten and the eighth grade who attended one of about 200 public schools studied that had either offered breakfast in some or in all classrooms. The researchers also looked at the students' demographics, attendance rates, and math and reading tests scores, which were available for grades four through eight.
The researchers found that free breakfast in the classroom increased children's participation rate. Although more children were eating breakfast, the obesity rate did not increase. Eating breakfast also did not appear to increase children's academic performance and did not impact attendance. School lunch did not affect participation.
"While we find that providing breakfast in the classroom had large positive effects on participation in school breakfast programs, our analysis provides no evidence of hoped-for gains in academic performance, nor of feared increases in obesity," said Sean Corcoran, associate director of the NYU Institute for Education and Social Policy. "When looking at academic achievement and attendance, there are few added benefits of having breakfast in the classroom beyond those already provided by free breakfast. The policy case for breakfast in the classroom will depend upon reductions in hunger and food insecurity for disadvantaged children, or its longer-term effects."
The study was published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.