School Meal Program Participation and Its Association with Dietary Patterns and Childhood Obesity

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U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service

Eat a good breakfast. That’s the bottom line on this federal study of eating patterns and childhood obesity.

Participants in the School Breakfast Program ate more calories than nonparticipants at breakfast yet had an average body mass index that was modestly lower than nonparticipants, according to this report, based on data gathered during the 2004-05 school year. The implication is that eating a more substantive breakfast is good for a child’s health because it spreads the calorie intake more evenly throughout the day.

The study, an attempt to understand the prevalence of obesity among children – and in particular the higher rates of obesity seen in low-income, school meal program-eligible children – separated its findings by participants in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP). The latter showed the more statistically significant results.

Though black NSLP participants were found more likely to be overweight or obese than participants of all other races, the report showed no major relationship between overall NSLP participation and body mass index.

The Economic Research Service, which conducts research on food, farming and other issues within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, based its findings on data from the third School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study, which analyzed 2,314 public school first- through 12th graders. Free, 162 pages. (202) 694-5598,