FRIDAY, Nov. 3, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Providing a free school breakfast to all elementary schoolchildren, regardless of family income, increases the likelihood that they'll start the day in a nutritious way, a new U.S. study finds.
The three-year study examined breakfast consumption and total daily food and nutrient intake for more than 4,300 students in grades 2 through 6 at 153 elementary schools.
The researchers compared schools that offered "universal-free" breakfast to all students, regardless of income, and schools participating in the federal government's School Breakfast Program that offers free or reduced-price breakfast for children from families with incomes below the poverty line.
On average, the students in the universal-free programs consumed less cholesterol than students in the School Breakfast Program. But the study found no significant differences between the two groups of students in terms of total daily dietary intake, overall quality of their diets, or rates of skipping breakfast.
"Students who cannot eat breakfast at home should have the opportunity to eat it at school," the researchers wrote. "This study and others have shown that improvements in children's nutrient intake are needed, particularly with regard to food energy, fat, sodium and fiber, as well as calcium for older children."
The study was conducted by researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the research firm Abt Associates. It was published in the November issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
The Nemours Foundation has more about children and healthy eating.