More than 160,000 children in the state of Utah who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals are not receiving school breakfast. This means we are only reaching 40% of the children who qualify. As many know, breakfast contributes many academic and health benefits. Specifically, school breakfast is correlated with better performance on standardized tests, reduced behavior problems and decreased risk for obesity. For students who participate in school breakfast, data indicates they are eating a healthier breakfast compared to those eating breakfast at home.
As a state, we can do better at helping these 160,000 children gain access to breakfast by offering breakfast in more flexible ways and providing additional funding for the School Breakfast Program. Currently, any revenue generated through the state liquor tax is directed toward the Child Nutrition Programs and earmarked for school lunch only. The Utah House of Representatives passed a bill, HB16, on Jan. 27, that would allow these funds to be used for all school meals, including breakfast. We encourage the Senate to pass this as well.
Additionally, another bill, HB222, will soon be considered by the Utah Legislature. This bill focuses on schools with a high percentage of free or reduced-price meal eligibility to have the availability to serve school breakfast as part of the school day, otherwise known as alternative breakfast service styles. Alternative breakfast service styles provide an equitable opportunity for all students to have access to a healthy breakfast.
Prior to Nevada passing a similar bill, only 45% of its students who were eligible for free or reduced-price meals were participating in the school breakfast program. Since their bill passed, nearly 65% of eligible students are participating, jumping from 31st in the nation in school breakfast participation to 11th.
Research has indicated that alternative breakfast service styles are associated with increased attendance, improved academic achievement and improved health. Passing these bills are viable solutions to help students in our state thrive both nutritionally and academically.
Lori Spruance, Emily Patten and Nathan Stokes
Brigham Young University professors