A Daily news digest by Jasper van Santen

With Classroom Breakfasts, Some Children May Eat Twice – NYTimes.com

In Nonsense on April 20, 2012 at 06:36

With Classroom Breakfasts, Some Children May Eat Twice

It is an innovative, intuitive and increasingly common way to ensure that food reaches the mouths of hungry children from low-income families: give out free breakfast in the classroom at the start of each school day.

The results, seen at urban districts across the country, are striking. Without the stigma of a trip to the cafeteria, the number of students in Newark who eat breakfast in school has tripled. Absenteeism has fallen in Los Angeles, and officials in Chicago say children from low-income families are eating healthier meals, more often.

But New York City, a leader in public health reform, has balked at expanding the approach in its own schools, and City Hall is citing a surprising concern: that all those classroom Cheerios and cheese sticks could lead to more obesity.

Some children, it turns out, may be double-dipping.

The city’s health department hit the pause button after a study found that the Breakfast in the Classroom program, now used in 381 of the city’s 1,750 schools, was problematic because some children might be “inadvertently taking in excess calories by eating in multiple locations” — in other words, having a meal at home, or snacking on the way to school, then eating again in school.

But this week, the City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, pushed back against those claims, joining children’s advocacy groups in demanding that New York follow other cities in making in-classroom breakfast available at many more schools with children from low-income families. They say hunger and poor nutrition are serious problems in a city where more than a quarter of residents under 18 are below the poverty line.

The breakfast battle echoes a national debate over the nutritional content of free and reduced-price school meals, a favored cause of the first lady, Michelle Obama. And the standoff leaves New York City’s policymakers in an uneasy place: trying to tackle children’s hunger while combating what has seemingly become a national epidemic of childhood obesity.

“They are both incredibly important, and so you have to constantly be in search of solutions where you can succeed in both, without disadvantaging the other,” said Linda I. Gibbs, the deputy mayor for health and human services. She noted that about 40 percent of New York’s elementary- and middle-school students were considered overweight or obese.

Outside Public School 180 in Harlem, one of the schools that offer breakfast in classrooms, several parents expressed surprise on Thursday that their children might be eating two morning meals. Abraham El Bey said his son, Noah, 8, usually eats breakfast at home, but Noah immediately volunteered that he ate breakfast at school, too.

“You can’t tell a kid, ‘No, you can’t have it,’ ” Mr. El Bey said with a shrug. “They need the fuel. I’m in favor of a child being able to eat in school.”

But Anne Morrison, whose son, Jude, 5, attends the same school, said she had adjusted what she fed him at home, knowing he would eat again at school.

“At school, it’s usually a muffin, a cheese stick and juice,” she said, adding, “I’m not so happy about the juice.”

New York offers breakfast at all its school cafeterias, but children generally have to show up before school starts to eat, and some are embarrassed to come forward for the free meal. When breakfast is served in the classroom, educators say, there is less stigma attached to it, and many more children accept it.


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