Dietary Effects of Universal-Free School Breakfast: Findings from the Evaluation of the School Breakfast Program Pilot Project
This article reports on an experimental study to determine the effects on students’ dietary outcomes of offering universal-free school breakfast in elementary schools. Treatment schools offered free breakfasts to all students regardless of family income. Schools participating in the federal School Breakfast Program (SBP), which offers free or reduced-price breakfast for children from families below the poverty level, served as controls. More than 4,000 students in grades 2 through 6 provided 24-hour dietary recall data at the end of the first year. Despite a significant increase in school breakfast participation among students in treatment schools (from 16 percent to 40 percent), the rate of breakfast skipping did not differ between groups (4 percent overall). Treatment school students were more likely to eat breakfast at school and consume a nutritionally substantive breakfast, but dietary intakes over 24 hours were essentially the same. The authors conclude that making universal-free school breakfast available in elementary schools will not result in more students "breaking their fast" or improving the quality of their diet, beyond any effects of offering the regular SBP. To improve children’s diets overall, efforts should focus on ensuring that all students have access to a healthful breakfast, at home or at school.