Increases School Breakfast Participation, Not Obesity
breakfast in New York City’s classrooms has boosted the number of students
eating what some consider the most important meal of the day at school,
according to research by the Center for Policy Research at Syracuse
University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and New York
University’s Institute for Education and Social Policy.
published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, finds that
this increase in school breakfast participation did not raise the prevalence of
obesity in New York City schools, as some critics may have feared. At the same
time, breakfast in the classroom did not appear to improve students’ attendance
or academic achievement.
Breakfast Program, a federal program subsidizing school breakfasts for
“nutritionally needy” children, celebrates its 50th anniversary this
year. Like school lunch programs, school breakfasts aim to reduce food
insecurity, improve nutrition, and facilitate learning.
breakfast programs take place in school cafeterias before classes begin, but
many districts across the country have adopted a different approach by serving
breakfast in classrooms at the start of the school day.
into the classroom is intended to encourage participation in school breakfast
programs, particularly among students unable to arrive early, and to reduce the
stigma associated with a trip to the cafeteria,” said Amy Ellen
Schwartz, Daniel Patrick Moynihan Chair in Public Affairs at Syracuse
University’s Maxwell School and director of the NYU Institute for
Education and Social Policy.
New York City has
offered free breakfast to all students since 2003, and began implementing
breakfast in the classroom in 2007. As of 2016, breakfast in the classroom is
offered in nearly 400 of the city’s 1,800 public schools, with more than 30,000
classroom breakfasts served each day. According to the New York City Department
of Education, since the implementation of breakfast in the classroom, the
participation rate has increased from 25 percent to 80 percent.
that moving breakfast from the cafeteria to the classroom provides many
benefits, including improving academic performance, attendance, and engagement,
and reducing hunger and food insecurity. Others have raised concerns that breakfast
in the classroom can contribute to weight gain and obesity, as some students
may consume extra calories by eating two breakfasts – one at home and one at
Using data from
the New York City Department of Education and its Office of School Food, the
researchers studied students in kindergarten through eighth grade at roughly
200 public elementary and middle schools offering breakfast in some or all
classrooms. They examined school breakfast and lunch participation, student
height and weight measurements, and administrative data including demographics,
attendance, and math and reading test scores in grades 4 through 8.
observed a substantial increase in school breakfast participation when
breakfast was served in the classroom, with no impact on lunch program
participation. Despite this increase in breakfasts served, the researchers saw
no evidence that the breakfast program contributes to obesity.
In contrast to
previous studies finding an academic benefit to breakfast in the classroom, the
researchers found that the effects on academic achievement were small and
statistically insignificant. At the same time, breakfast in the classroom did
not hurt students academically by taking time away from instruction.
in the classroom had no effect on attendance, which the researchers suggest may
be because attendance rates are already high in elementary and middle schools.
“While we find
that providing breakfast in the classroom had large positive effects on
participation in school breakfast programs, our analysis provides no evidence
of hoped-for gains in academic performance, nor of feared increases in
obesity,” said Sean Corcoran, associate director of the NYU Institute for
Education and Social Policy and associate professor of educational economics at
NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.
“When looking at
academic achievement and attendance, there are few added benefits of having
breakfast in the classroom beyond those already provided by free breakfast,”
added Corcoran. “The policy case for breakfast in the classroom will depend
upon reductions in hunger and food insecurity for disadvantaged children, or
its longer-term effects.”
In addition to
Corcoran and Schwartz, Brian Elbel of the Department of Population Health at
NYU Langone Medical Center and NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service
coauthored the study. The research was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R01HD070739).
About the Maxwell School of
Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University (@MaxwellSU)
The Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs is
Syracuse University’s home for innovative, interdisciplinary teaching and
research in the social sciences, public policy, public administration, and
international relations. It is America’s top-ranked graduate
school of public affairs (U.S. News & World Report),
offering highly regarded professional degrees alongside advanced
scholarly degrees in the social sciences; and it is home also to undergraduate
programs across the full spectrum of social sciences.
Maxwell scholars conduct
wide-ranging research through nine interdisciplinary centers, each focused
on a topical area within public affairs, such as social and economic policy,
conflict and collaboration, public wellness, aging, energy and environment,
national security, regional studies, and more. For more information, please
Institute for Education and Social Policy
The Institute for
Education and Social Policy at NYU conducts non-partisan scientific research
about U.S. education and related social policy issues to help inform
educational institutions and policymakers. The Institute, a part of the
Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, was founded in
1995 as a partnership between Steinhardt, the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School
of Public Service, and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development (@nyusteinhardt)
Located in the
heart of Greenwich Village, NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and
Human Development prepares students for careers in the arts, education, health,
media, and psychology. Since its founding in 1890, the Steinhardt School's
mission has been to expand human capacity through public service, global
collaboration, research, scholarship, and practice. To learn more about NYU
Steinhardt, visit steinhardt.nyu.edu.