Monday, March 28, 2016

Are Two Breakfasts Better Than One?

We always thought that providing free breakfasts in school was a no brainer. What could be detrimental about making sure that school children started the day with proper nutrition? In fact, study after study has confirmed the importance of a good breakfast to helping students get the most out of school.

Statistics tell us that free school lunch is far more common than free breakfast. According to the Food Research and Action Center (and Emma Brown of the Washington Post) for every 100 students who receive a free or subsidized lunch, only 54 are eating a free or subsidized breakfast. Even so, concerns have been raised that students receiving breakfast in school might also be eating at home before they head out for the day. These students would be eating two breakfasts and, presumably, taking in more calories than they needed.

It turns out that this concern is unfounded and that it is the students who skip breakfast completely who are at greater risk of obesity. In a study conducted by Dr. Marlene Schwartz of the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, approximately 500 students in a dozen schools were followed from fifth through seventh grades. The goal of the study was to determine where the students ate breakfast – home or school, in both locations, or not at all – and to track the height and weight of the students to determine how these breakfast choices impacted obesity.

Among the findings were that breakfast frequency declined over time as students aged; significantly more students skipped breakfast in seventh grade than earlier. Students who generally skipped breakfast altogether or who ate breakfast inconsistently (more common in girls than boys) were twice as likely to be overweight or obese as those who at breakfast both at home and at school.

The authors could come to no definite conclusion as to why those students who skipped breakfast were significantly more likely to be overweight. They raised several possibilities, including the fact that the school breakfasts were required to be nutritionally sound, so that they were unlikely to cause weight gain and the fact that students who skipped breakfast completely might become so hungry that they ate more later. Clearly, more study is needed to better understand how to encourage students to eat in a way that will benefit their health. 

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