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Make it Your Mission That No Child Starts the Day Hungry

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By Annelise Cohon, Program Coordinator of the National Education Association Health Information Network (NEA HIN)

There is a lot to be thankful for during the holidays. As I reflect on my time home this past holiday season, I am reminded of how fortunate many of us are.  But the reality is that many families struggle with food insecurity and hunger can be found in nearly every community in the United States (U.S.). In 2011, more than 16 million children in the U.S. struggled with hunger. Child hunger is a solvable problem, and the National Education Association Health Information Network (NEA HIN) is deeply engaged in  the fight against child hunger, because no student should start the school day with an empty stomach.

Every day in the U.S., 31 million students receive a school lunch--but only 10 million receive a school breakfast. Although research confirms the importance of breakfast and most schools participate in the School Breakfast Program, fewer  than half of children who are eligible eat a free or reduced-price breakfast at school.

There are a number of reasons why students are not participating in their school breakfast program.  The barriers to participation range from stigma from peers to late bus arrivals or a pressure to go directly to class in the morning. NEA HIN and partners have worked with educators from across the country to alleviate these barriers and have helped to feed an additional 70,000 students school breakfast.

Educators are often on the front lines in the fight against hunger and realize, along with others in the school community, the myriad of academic and health benefits associated with school breakfast:

  • Principals understand that students who participate in school breakfast programs show improved attendance, behavior, standardized achievement test scores as well as decreased tardiness.

  • Teachers and Education Support Professionals know that providing breakfast to students at school improves their cognitive function, attention, and memory so that they are better able to focus in class.

  • Parents who work early morning shifts or who are rushed in the morning to get their children to school appreciate the fact their children can still receive a healthy, nutritious meal. They know this is one part of their child's overall academic success.

  • Students love eating breakfast with their peers and teachers and are learning healthy eating habits early on that they can carry with them throughout their adult lives.

  • Health Advocates understand how breakfast can be a safeguard against childhood obesity because students attending schools that offer a free breakfast to all students are more likely to consume a nutritious breakfast with significantly more calcium, magnesium, fruit, and dairy products.

Through a partnership with Share Our Strength, NEA HIN created a Start School with Breakfast Guide to help educators and school community members increase student participation in the School Breakfast Program. The guide is available to order or download. In the guide, educators are given the tools needed to increase school breakfast participation.

Child hunger is a serious problem that needs deliberate and decisive action. This year, become a champion for the 16 million children who need a healthy breakfast.  Below are some steps that you as educators can take to get involved in the fight against child hunger.

  • Principals learn more about the School Breakfast Program at your school and document  your daily participation numbers of students eating breakfast and lunch.

  • Teachers and Education Support Professionals advocate against child hunger by being aware of your school's current initiatives to provide students with breakfast. Find out if these efforts are helping and analyze how they can be improved

  • Parents learn more about the different ways schools across the country are increasing participation in the School Breakfast Program. The School Nutrition Foundation's  Beyond Breakfast blog is a great place to start and has lots of material and facts about school breakfast, food and nutrition.

To learn more about NEA HIN's breakfast work follow us on Facebook or Twitter. You can also visit us at www.neahin.org/breakfastintheclassroom for more information.

Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.

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