W.Va. Leads Nation In Free Meals For Kids

December 18, 2006

CHARLESTON, W.Va. _ West Virginia schools are serving free or reduced-price breakfast to a greater proportion of children from low-income families than any other state in the nation.  

The Food Research and Action Center’s School Breakfast Scorecard 2006 shows that West Virginia served breakfast to 58.5 children for every 100 children who also participated in the federal School Lunch Program. Nationally, 44.6 low-income children received breakfast for every 100 eating lunch, according to the report.  

“It’s no secret that children learn better when they're not hungry,” said State Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine. “I’m proud of West Virginia for recognizing the important role proper nutrition plays in education. Study after study shows children with poor nutrition score lower on vocabulary, reading, math and general knowledge tests. Simply eating breakfast improves alertness and mood and lessens anxiety.”  

Run by the U.S. Agriculture Department, the School Breakfast Program began as a pilot project in 1966 to make sure children started the school day ready to learn. The program reimburses schools for providing meals to kids.  

In West Virginia, the breakfast program served 66,830 low-income children in 2005-2006. Those children were part of a record 7.7 million low-income children served nationally in 2005-2006, according to the report.  

West Virginia is one of the few states with a law mandating school breakfast. The state Board of Education also requires that schools give children at least 10 minutes to eat after being served breakfast. And school districts that receive federal funds for their meal programs must adopt local wellness policies that address nutrition and physical fitness.  

Schools in West Virginia have embraced innovative programs to increase school nutrition programs, including serving breakfast after first period and in the classroom as well as offering grab and go items and hallway breakfast carts.  

“Reaching a lot more children with breakfast in schools is probably the most cost-effective and fastest way to improve children’s learning and health,” said Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center.  

Children who eat breakfast and lunch at school consume twice as many servings of fruits, vegetables and milk than those who don’t participate in school programs. They also drink one-forth the number of soft drinks and skip fewer meals.  

Contact Rick Goff, director of the West Virginia Department of Education’s Office of Child Nutrition, at (304) 558-2709 for more information.

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