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Empty Chairs at Empty Tables: Eligible FL Children Missing Breakfast

Photo: Children go through the breakfast line at Blanche H. Daughtrey Elementary School, Manatee County, Bradenton, Fla. Courtesy: Letsmove.gov
Photo: Children go through the breakfast line at Blanche H. Daughtrey Elementary School, Manatee County, Bradenton, Fla. Courtesy: Letsmove.gov
March 4, 2014

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - There's good news and bad news from a report released today by the Food Research and Action Center. More children are now starting the day with school breakfast, compared with recent years, but Florida still is missing more than half of its eligible children. The increase in accessibility is attributed to innovative programs in some Florida school districts.

Debra Susie, executive director, Florida Impact, said schools in the state sometimes have a hard time wrapping their arms around something new.

"Our school food service directors are largely great across the state of Florida, but sometimes other things get in the way - like maybe a principal's reluctance to try something new like this, not quite believing it will produce the results that we have seen in other parts of the country," Susie said.

The report is titled "A Good Start for Learning: School Breakfast Participation in Florida." It said increasing breakfast participation to 70 out of 100 students would feed an additional 249,000 low-income children and bring $64 million more in federal funding to Florida.

Pinellas County is one school system trying innovative ways to make sure students have the food they need. In 2011, their School Food Service Director, Art Dunham, asked the school board to authorize free breakfasts for all students. Since then the number of children eating breakfast at school has more than doubled, he said.

"Also, our high schools went from C and D schools to A and B schools," Dunham added. "You've got to believe that hungry kids can't learn, and now with all the increase of people having breakfast, that could have improved their grades dramatically."

Susie said other Florida school districts, including Franklin, Highlands, Hamilton and Jefferson, have also found successful strategies to increase participation, such as moving breakfast into the classroom, the bus loop or other alternatives.

"There's quite a variety of ways that children can access breakfast now," she said, "and when they do, we find that they seem to participate more."

Research indicates starting the day with a balanced breakfast increases a child's ability to absorb information and helps keep kids' weight in check.

The full report is available at www.flimpact.org.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - FL