Nutritious breakfast programs should be offered in every Toronto school so all students can benefit from improved health, learning and behaviour, says the city’s medical officer of health.
“There is a growing body of research, including Canadian findings, which solidifies the positive relationship between eating breakfast and health, learning and behavioural outcomes among students,” says Dr. David McKeown in a comprehensive review released Tuesday.
“Studies also confirm that student participation in school meal programs increases if the programs are available to all students who would benefit from the program, provided they are not identified or centred out,” he says is Nourishing Young Minds, to be discussed by the city’s board of health Monday.
Research shows that eating habits are established early and that eating a healthy breakfast helps prevent obesity and other chronic health problems. Well-fed children also do better in school, score better in math, and are less likely to drop out or be suspended, the report notes.
Provincial and municipal funding covers about one-fifth of the cost; the rest comes from corporate donors, local fundraising, parental contributions and community donations.
The city’s contribution has grown from about $1.3 million in 1998 to about $3.8 million in 2012. Provincial contributions have grown from $0.8 million to $5.3 million.
The report, which looked at nutrition programs around the world, concludes that Toronto’s cost-shared model is viable if appropriately funded.
Research findings supporting student nutrition programs
• Students who eat breakfast have improved health, learning and behaviour
• Breakfast provides key nutrients children need after sleep
• Breakfast skipping increases with age, and is getting worse
• Lack of food at home, rushed lifestyles and parental absence in the morning are causes of breakfast skipping.
• Eating habits established in childhood and adolescence continue into adulthood
• Breakfast can economically provide low-fat, low-sodium, highly nutritious foods
• Childhood obesity is a growing public health concern
• Routinely eating breakfast improves weight control
• 32% of Toronto’s children live in poverty
Source: Nourishing Young Minds, Toronto Public Health