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UNCG releases study on school breakfasts

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GREENSBORO, N.C.--A newly released study on school breakfasts has provided helpful feedback for districts across the country. Professors from UNC Greensboro analyzed economic-based changes to Guilford County Schools' universal-free breakfast program.

In 2008, amid economic turmoil, GCS faced the question of removing its free breakfast plan.

UNCG professors David Ribar and Lauren Haldeman decided to begin studying the impacts of the programs. "Here the programs were going to be taken away unexpectedly, kind of randomly," explained Ribar. He continued, "it's usually been an experiment where somebody goes in and adds a free breakfast program. This was a situation where somebody was taking a breakfast program away."

Ribar and Haldeman compared students who still received free breakfast, to those school's no longer participating the in program. "We studied the difference between how many breakfasts were consumed, how many lunches were consumed, what attendance looked like and standardized test grades," said Ribar.

As a result, "what we found was a big change in participation," he said. In free-breakfast schools, more than 50 percent of eligible kids turned out to eat, and for kids who no longer had to pay, participation was even higher.

"It removes the stigma associated with free breakfasts," explained Ribar.

Jim Faggione, the new Director of School Nutritional Services for Guilford County Schools said, "students don't even want to bring in free and reduced applications sometimes. They're even shy about doing that, so if we can get them to eat universal free breakfast, everybody together, that removes that stigma."

Test results in schools with free breakfast were not affected but surprisingly, school attendance for those receiving free breakfast, went down. "That led to some head-scratching and one of the things that we speculated about was that having kids eat school breakfasts together may actually increase the chances that they catch colds and flu from other kids," said Ribar.

Ribar said ultimately, "if it's very important to make sure that kids are fed, you want to use a universal free program."

The study is now under peer review for journal publication.

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