Appearing in The Washington Post, November 19, 2004
Fewer Poor Students Eat Free Breakfasts in Region
By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 19, 2004
The number of low-income children eating the most important meal of the
day -- breakfast -- at their schools declined last year in the District
by nearly 11 percent, and by lesser percentages in Maryland and Virginia,
according to a report released yesterday.
The regional declines -- 6 percent in Maryland and 2 percent in Virginia
-- came as participation in school breakfast programs nationwide rose
by 5.2 percent, said the report by the D.C.-based Food Research and Action
Center, a nonprofit organization working for more effective public and
private policies to eradicate hunger.
"The drop in D.C. is disappointing, especially when the national
jump in the number of children starting the day off with a nutritious
breakfast at school is the best in nine years," said James Weill,
president of the center.
Studies have shown that a good breakfast boosts not just student nutrition,
but also student achievement and health, and reduces absenteeism and visits
to the school nurse. A recent study by the Economic Research Service of
the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that children with access
to school breakfast eat a better overall diet, with less fat and more
magnesium, vitamin C and folate. Furthermore, skipping breakfast is associated
with a higher risk of obesity among adults.
The federal government funds the School Breakfast Program, which reimburses
school systems across the country at a set amount for the cost of each
meal for low-income students. However, it has fewer participants than
does the federally funded School Lunch Program; the report said four in
10 low-income children who consume school lunches also eat breakfast at
Reasons for the regional declines were varied but included a failure to
advertise the program well enough, said Kimberly Perry, director of D.C.
Hunger Solutions, a project of the Food and Food Research and Action Center.
The District's drop was also seen in part as a result of changing school
enrollment patterns, with more students leaving the traditional public
schools and entering public charter schools, many of which are not enrolled
in the School Breakfast Program. But the drop was not entirely enrollment-related;
the study found that for every 100 D.C. children eating a free or reduced-price
school lunch, 40.7 ate a school breakfast -- which was lower than the
figure of 42 the previous year.
Deborah Gist, director of the D.C. State Education Office, which implements
the federally funded nutrition programs in the city, said her staff would
work harder with charter schools to get them involved in the program.
She also said it was important for students to get to school in time to
Mark Truax, the new director of the school system's Food and Nutrition
Services, said he would research all the barriers to student participation
in the next few months and work to eradicate them.
In Virginia, Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) announced yesterday that he was adding
$1.5 million to the state's budget to increase the amount of money schools
receive in reimbursement for serving breakfast, as part of an overall
initiative to improve the health of young people.
Perry said a pilot breakfast program was conducted in eight D.C. schools
last year, using a range of methods to make families aware of the program,
including trying to lure students in with breakfast readings by celebrities.
There was a 50 percent increase in those schools last year at the same
time that other schools recorded a drop in participation, she said.
"We have to make sure people know about the program," she said.
"If you tell people about the program, you can be sure they will
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
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