Reinforcing the connection between good nutrition and good grades, researchers have found that free school breakfasts help students from low-income families perform better academically.
Policymakers in developing countries can take a cue from the study as it suggests that subsidised breakfast programmes are an effective tool to help elementary school students from low-income families achieve more in school and be better prepared for later life.
“These results suggest that the persistent exposure to the relatively more nutritious breakfast offered through the subsidized breakfast programme throughout elementary school can yield important gains in achievement,” said researcher David Frisvold, assistant professor of economics in the Tippie College of Business, University of Iowa.
The researchers found that students who attended schools that participate in the US Department of Agriculture’s School Breakfast Program (SBP) had higher scores in math, science, and reading than students in schools that did not participate.
The federal government started the SBP for children from low-income families in 1966. Participation in the programme allows schools to offer subsidised breakfasts if a certain percentage of their overall enrolment comes from families that meet income eligibility guidelines.
Frisvold conducted his study by examining the academic performance of students in schools that are just below the threshold and thus not required to offer free breakfasts and those that are just over it and thus do offer them.
He found the schools that offered free breakfasts showed significantly better academic performance than schools that did not, and that the impact was cumulative.
Math scores were about 25 percent higher at participating schools during a student’s elementary school tenure than would be expected otherwise.
Reading and science scores showed similar gains, Frisvold said.
The findings are detailed in the Journal of Public Economics.