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School Nutrition Report Gives Minnesota Something to Chew On

January 11, 2008

St. Paul, MN – A new study finds Minnesota isn't making good enough use of the national School Breakfast Program, even though starting the day off with a good, healthy breakfast helps kids learn. Colleen Moriarty, executive director of Hunger Solutions Minnesota, says the breakfast program works only if schools participate.

"Minnesota ranks 43rd in states offering such school breakfasts, taking advantage of breakfast programs for children in the public schools."

The federal program is designed to get low- and middle-income kids off to a nutritious start and help them focus on academics. Moriarty says participation in the program improves students' test scores and behavior, and reduces absences. More than 90,000 Minnesota schoolchildren were in the program last year, but the state could be helping thousands more while gaining millions of dollars in federal funding, she adds.

According to Moriarty, on test days some larger school districts now offer free breakfasts to all kids, and there's a lesson there.

"That tells you they believe what we all know is true from research, that good nutrition really helps children to be able to learn. We want to make sure that children have all the tools that they need to be able to succeed every day. That's the reason we're interested in universal free breakfast programs for all the students in the state."

She says many districts don't use the breakfast program, for various reasons. For many it's financial: Their budgets are squeezed, and state funding to complement available federal dollars has been cut in recent years. Other districts simply consider it a distraction, or an add-on that would make hectic school days start even earlier.

Moriarty defends school nutrition programs' ability to keep kids healthy and improve academics. She says the programs shouldn't be based on family income or government budgets, however, because they're an investment in everyone's future.

"Being able to have a solid diet, making sure that their stomachs are full, aids all students in their concentration, aids in their ability to be able to learn. I know it's not the best situation to find ourselves in as a country. But really, that's where we're at, because so many middle- and low-income families just do not have access to enough food to be able to keep them going."

The study from the Food Research and Action Center is online at
www.frac.org/pdf/breakfast07.pdf

Jim Wishner/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - MN