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“Breakfast Club” Grows in MA Schools

More kids are getting breakfast in school, according to the Food Research and Action Center. But in Massachusetts, aside from Boston public schools, the percentage of children getting in-school breakfasts  while up this school year  lags behind the nation. Photo courtesy FRAC.
More kids are getting breakfast in school, according to the Food Research and Action Center. But in Massachusetts, aside from Boston public schools, the percentage of children getting in-school breakfasts while up this school year lags behind the nation. Photo courtesy FRAC.
January 15, 2013

BOSTON - More than half of all low-income pupils across the country who participated in school lunch programs also ate school breakfasts, according to a new report from the Food Research and Action Center. Advocates say that's a positive step and a boon to learning.

However, in Massachusetts, aside from those in Boston public schools, the percentage of children getting in-school breakfasts - while up this school year - lags behind the country. The report says that with a ratio of 43 low-income children eating breakfast for every 100 eating lunch, Massachusetts is below the national average of 50 to 100. Advocates say studies show school breakfast participation is linked to improved nutritional intake and a lower probability of overweight and obesity. It also improves behavior and limits disruptions during morning class time.

Sarah Cluggish says that jibes with a study her group, Project Bread, did with Mass General Hospital some years ago.

"Kids who had school breakfast consistently every day did better on their math test scores, they had fewer absences, fewer behavior problems."

Overall, there was a 5.5 percent increase from last year to this school year in the number of Bay State pupils getting the breakfasts. But that put Massachusetts second-to-last among New England states.

Pat Baker of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute finds the report dismaying.

"Massachusetts' performance in New England is the worst, except for New Hampshire, which is even worse than Massachusetts, and that's an embarrassment for the [Gov. Deval] Patrick administration. It's really time, you know, that we turn this around."

Sarah Cluggish says her group will use the new findings to push for change.

"Project Bread continues to work with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to remove the barriers that prevent other low-income school districts from realizing a higher participation rate among students."

Pat Baker praises Boston public schools for their participation rate of just under 70 percent, but finds the rest of the state's districts lacking.

"I think Massachusetts just needs to step up to the breakfast plate. Over a third of our schools don't even offer breakfasts to students."

The FRAC report says that if the Bay State reached a goal of 70 low-income pupils receiving school breakfast for every 100 receiving school lunch, the state would gain an additional $19 million in federal funding.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - MA