Effect of breakfast on school kids

Common knowledge suggests that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  But is it really?

For some children in West Auckland schools this will be the focus of a NZ-first study aimed at better understanding relationships between food intake patterns and learning behaviours.

In a move hailing back to the days when milk was delivered free to schoolchildren, EasiYo is a major supporter of The Big School Feed, a community initiative delivering healthy nutritional alternatives to around a dozen low deciles schools in the West Auckland area.

Anecdotal feedback so far from teachers and parents is that the children have been able to concentrate better in the classroom as a result of the daily breakfast delivery.

EasiYo now plans to take that feedback one step further and in a bold new initiative intends to research whether the improvements are real by determining effects on learning and development in school children.

EasiYo announced the launch of the research project at its new manufacturing and office facility in Albany, Auckland, which was officially opened by Prime Minister John Key late last month.

EasiYo chief executive Paul O’Brien says, “As we all know a balanced intake of nutritious alternatives is critical for normal development and active children.

“It is all too common for some children to go to school on an empty stomach or have an inadequate breakfast such as crisps or fizzy drink.

“Our contribution through The Big School Feed has shown us anecdotally that nutritious breakfasts appear to help children concentrate better in the classroom”.

By teaming up with leading health and nutrition researchers at the University of Auckland’s Liggins Institute, EasiYo will invest in an exciting new project aimed at answering key questions related to nutrition, food intake patterns and learning and cognition outcomes in school children.

The project is still in the scoping and planning stage and importantly would not be possible without access to R & D funding through the government’s incentive package as announced in the 2010 budget.

Mr O’Brien sees the involvement of low deciles schools similar to those involved in the Big School Feed as a key advantage of the new study and is strongly of the view that research on healthy nutrition in our schools has far reaching implications for further education in this country.

Liggins Institute business and innovation manager Dr Steve Hodgkinson says the project is a major research initiative around healthy nutrition and learning outcomes in schools.

“The sorts of research questions likely to be addressed include the affects of breakfast and grazing food intake patterns on quality learning.”

Liggins is a world leading centre for translational research on fetal and child health and on the impact of nutrition on health.

The Big School Feed was established by the Encounter Christian Centre, and engages an enthusiastic team of teenagers from the Community Max programme to run the scheme.

The Community Max programme is an employment initiative funded by the Ministry of Social Development and managed by the Work and Income NZ (WINZ) to help young people assist in community-based projects.

Every week day two teams visit different schools for breakfast. The breakfast food is eagerly and gratefully consumed by the children.

“As a local business we feel honoured to be able to contribute to this very valuable programme,” Mr O’Brien says.

Several other local businesses supply the breakfast food free of charge or at cost.  It is unique in that:

  • It provides one serving per school each week without increasing administration on school staff.
  • It provides food to all who attend, removing economic stigma and providing hope through community leadership by valuing nutritional breakfasts for children for all families – regardless of need.
  • It connects low skilled youth with the opportunities and needs in their community, giving them a positive model of how to live and serve in their community.

The Big School Feed has been operating since January and will continue, as is, until July when the Community Max funding stops.

Not only has this been a fantastic initiative to help feed hungry school children but it has also helped develop the skills, initiative and confidence of a team of young people managing the breakfast.

Teachers are thrilled with the results and have given a large amount of positive anecdotal feedback.

Matt Berry, director of The Big School Feed says, “The Big School Feed has been a great success in bringing leaders together to benefit the local community and schools.

This programme has become an example of how different pillars of community can work together to provide direction and support at a number of levels to bring hope to schools and families, regardless of their socio economic background. Thank you to all the supporters and sponsors who have made the Big School Feed possible.”

Encounter and the sponsors are keen to keep this initiative going after the funding stops as the feedback from the participating schools has been incredibly positive. However, without funding for the team of coordinators it will be difficult to keep the scheme going at the same level as present.

  Over the coming months Encounter and the sponsors will be assessing ways to keep this worthwhile programme alive so we can keep the children at the participating schools well nourished.

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