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Published in Print: January 26, 2000, as USDA To Pilot Program Providing Free Breakfasts

USDA To Pilot Program Providing Free Breakfasts

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The federal government would like to know just how much breakfast helps students, and to find out, it is launching a pilot program that will provide the morning meal free to participating schools.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's food and nutrition service has announced that it is seeking a limited number of elementary schools to take part in the project. Free breakfasts will be available to all students, regardless of family income, in those schools.

For More Information

For information on how to apply, the USDA food and nutrition service has a downloadable application (requires Adobe's Acrobat Reader) and related information.

Six schools will be chosen by this spring for the three-year pilot. Another six will be selected to operate regular school breakfast programs and serve as a control group, said Phil Shanholtzer, a USDA spokesman. Interested schools must apply by Jan. 31.

The department will evaluate the effects of the program on meal participation, academic achievement, school attendance and tardiness, classroom behavior and attentiveness, and dietary status.

Eat and Get Smarter?

Seeking a link between academic performance and eating breakfast was a major reason for initiating the project, Mr. Shanholtzer said.

Research suggests that providing breakfasts to low-income children is associated with significant improvements in those children's cognitive, emotional, and psychological behavior, as well as in their school attendance and academic achievement.

"If breakfast can help children, it could be a relatively inexpensive way to give kids an academic boost," he said.

Although the department requested $13 million, Congress authorized $7 million for the project, which is to begin next fall.

The existing school breakfast program began as a pilot in 1966, and in 1999, more than 70,000 public and private schools provided breakfast to 6.2 million students, according to the Food Research and Action Center, an advocacy group based in Washington. In contrast, 93,000 schools provide free or reduced-price lunches to 25 million students.

According to the USDA, those eating school breakfasts are far more likely to be poor, and to qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Some experts attribute the relatively low levels of participation in the program to the perceived stigma associated with subsidized meals.

Vol. 19, Issue 20, Page 20

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