ChildObesity180 presents
The Breakfast Effect Many people believe that the food served in the national school meals programs
is not healthy. But actually school meals,
including school breakfast, must meet specific nutritional requirements for calories, protein, calcium,
and more. Dr. Jay Bhattacharya at Stanford University has studied how school breakfast affects children’s nutrition. In 2006, he published a paper showing that children
who eat school breakfast are more likely to consume adequate
amounts of important vitamins, fiber,
and potassium. He also found that eating school breakfast decreased the number of calories from fat
that children consumed. So why,
he wondered, have past studies found the opposite, that eating school breakfast
made children’s diets worse? There’s been some concern in the policy community and also in the research community that providing School Breakfast may actually make things worse. In the poor populations that often are eligible
for School Breakfast, there is a big obesity problem, and people are concerned
that providing extra calories could make things worse
in terms of obesity and some other nutritional outcomes. So I was motivated to look at this
to see whether this was true, whether if you look at a broad set
of nutritional outcomes, are nutritional outcomes really worse? Because it seems counter-intuitive; you would expect that School Breakfast
would improve outcomes. And I wanted to see whether there is
statistical evidence to support that. In general, the problem
with the earlier literature is that they didn’t tease apart
the causal effect of School Breakfast. They intermingled the effect of poverty with the effect of School Breakfast,
all together. And as a result, they weren’t carefully isolating the effect
of School Breakfast. And if you don’t do that,
then you can sometimes conclude that you get a negative effect between school meals and nutritional outcomes. Dr. Bhattacharya also learned
that the school breakfast program influences not just the children
who are eating school breakfast, but their families
as well. In fact, his paper concludes that the School Breakfast Program
is an important tool for improving the diets of children and their families. Similarly,
in 2009, Mary Kay Crepensik and her team
at Mathematica Policy Research conducted a study to see
whether eating school breakfast increased the amount of nutrients
that children were getting in their diets. What we learned about the relationship between School Breakfast participation and children’s nutrient intakes was that School Breakfast participants tended to have higher average intakes of several vitamins and minerals. They were also more likely
to have adequate intakes of these vitamins relative to their requirements. Her study claims that, although school breakfast did not contribute excessive fat or saturated fat to children’s diets, these meals could be made even healthier
by decreasing the levels of fat, saturated fat,
and sodium. And, in fact,
in 2013, the federal government rolled out new guidelines that now require school breakfasts
to be lower in fat and sodium. The guidelines also require school breakfasts to include more whole grains and fruit, and meet rigorous calorie limits. These results are encouraging, but there’s still more to learn. How will the new federal nutrition requirements
affect students’ diets? How does participation
in the School Breakfast Program shape long-term nutrition
and patterns of consumption? And how can we modify the implementation
of the School Breakfast Program to further improve nutrition? Regardless of these additional questions, this collection of scientific evidence
makes a strong case for the benefits of the School Breakfast Program
on child nutrition. And with the new,
more rigorous nutrition guidelines for the school breakfast program
being implemented, we may see even more benefits to children
and their families in the future. ChildObesity180 presents
The Breakfast Effect