Dietary effects of universal-free school breakfast: findings from the evaluation of the school breakfast program pilot project

Mary Kay Crepinsek, Anita Singh, Lawrence S Bernstein, Joan E McLaughlin
Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2006, 106 (11): 1796-803

OBJECTIVE: To determine the effects of offering universal-free school breakfast in elementary schools on students' dietary outcomes.

DESIGN: Experimental study with random assignment of 153 matched elementary schools in six school districts. Treatment schools offered universal-free school breakfast, and control schools continued to operate the traditional means-tested School Breakfast Program. Twenty-four-hour dietary recalls were collected from sample students near the end of the first year.

SUBJECTS: About 30 students in second through sixth grades were randomly selected from each school (n=4,358).

INTERVENTION: Free school breakfasts were made available to all students in treatment schools, regardless of family income, for three consecutive school years (2000-2001 to 2002-2003).

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Breakfast consumption and food and nutrient intake.

STATISTICAL ANALYSES: Hierarchical mixed-models and logistic regression, adjusting for age, sex, minority status, and income eligibility for the regular school meal programs, were used to estimate effects.

RESULTS: Despite a significant increase in school breakfast participation among sample students in treatment schools (from 16% to 40%, P<0.01), the rate of breakfast skipping did not differ between groups (4% overall). Treatment school students were more likely to consume a nutritionally substantive breakfast (P<0.01), but dietary intakes over 24 hours were essentially the same.

CONCLUSIONS: Making universal-free school breakfast available in elementary schools did not change students' dietary outcomes after nearly 1 year. To improve children's diets overall, efforts should focus on ensuring all students have access to a healthful breakfast, at home or at school.

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