Fighting Hunger through Breakfast

by Tracey DePasquale, LAMPa Associate Director

Breakfast. The name alone should tell us as Christians that it is important. It is, after all, breaking the fast to which we look forward all through Lent. In this season of fasting, the bounty of the Lord’s table and our need to be fed there become clearer.

Even if the name itself did not underscore its significance, studies show breakfast to be the most important meal of the day. Research points to a healthy breakfast as essential in supporting educational success, fighting hunger and promoting lifelong health.

Despite the research, many of our hungriest children are going without in Pennsylvania. Currently, only 42.6 percent of the state’s students eligible for free or reduced price lunches are receiving school breakfast, giving us a ranking of 36th nationally. The failure to achieve a participation rate of even 60 percent is costing the commonwealth at least $24 million in federal funds, according to the Pennsylvania Hunger Action Center.

Missing breakfast is costing us much more. According to studies cited by the Food Research and Action Center at, skipping breakfast and experiencing hunger lead to lower math scores, slower memory recall and increased errors; whereas, children who eat a complete breakfast make fewer mistakes, work faster, show improved cognition, attention and memory. In particular, children eating breakfast at school do better on standardized tests than those who skip breakfast or eat at home. School breakfast availability also been linked to less tardiness and absenteeism, fewer visits to the nurse and improved mental health tied to the additional bit of security that morning meal offers.

Furthermore, the center reports, children who receive school breakfasts are more likely to consume diets richer in important vitamins and minerals and are at a lower risk of being overweight. Moreover, in alleviating food insecurity, school breakfasts protect against diabetes, heart disease and depression — some of the costliest health problems in the United States.

Reasons for low participation vary from school district to school district. Anti-hunger organizations point to several factors, including stigma of poverty when school breakfast programs are not open to all students, lack of access when breakfast is offered before the school day, and lack of the awareness on the part of school leaders and potential participants. LAMPa and other anti-hunger organizations can help advocates in assessing the barriers in their community in order to develop appropriate strategies.

The ELCA’s social policy statement on education supports such efforts:

“Because poverty and discrimination have such a large and negative impact on student learning, this church calls for public policies that give top priority to children and youth who do not have equitable access to good education. This requires compensatory measures for children and young people who are encumbered by social disadvantages to increase their chances of equal opportunity for a good education.”

LAMPa will be working in 2013 on a campaign to to broaden participation in the school breakfast program so that every child, freed from focusing on physical hunger, may be fed in all the ways that God intends.
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