Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Breakfast Flub

The NYC Coalition Against Hunger held its press conference yesterday, and we couldn't top the NY Post and its headline in today's paper-so we shamelessly copied it for our commentary. Clearly, there is something radically amiss in the schools when Newark is doing a much better job getting children to eat breakfast than we are in New York; and this is after Mayor Bloomberg established "Universal Breakfast," a program that allows any kid to eat without regard to eligibility.

The key here, as Coalition head Joel Berg pointed out, is for "the city to expand participation by serving breakfast in classrooms rather than cafeterias." That's the approach that enabled Newark to reach its 93% rate, leaving NYC red faced at 29%.

This poor record has a number of implications, as the report from Food Research and Action Center highlights. Our school kids in New York are part of a generation that is facing health challenges that have heretofore been unknown to us. Diabetes and heart disease, and an obesity epidemic that is shocking, are two results of lifestyles and poor eating habits that need to be changed-or, quite frankly, they will soon bankrupt us.

In addition, the failure to have a good breakfast has educational implications as well. Poor nutrition will effect attention spans and educational outcomes will inevitably suffer. And, with around 600,000 eligible children not eating, the city is forfeiting close to a million a day in federal and state revenue. Exacerbating the situation is the fact that, because there is a differential between what the city gets in aid and what it spends on each breakfast, there is an additional $60-$70 million a year lost-money that could go to additional nutritional programs.

All of which makes the DOE's response to the FRAC report even more questionable. As a spokeswoman for the Department told the NY Daily News, citing the fact that participation rates were at 14% in 2003, the current 29% is "a huge jump." That's what happens, it seems, when you don't set the bar too high-hyperbole replaces sober reevaluation.

The city needs to really move on this-especially when the mayor has made health and education such a high public policy priority. We need to devise a number of innovative pilot programs-and classroom breakfast is a good place to begin- and really look for ways to makes these dismal rates soar. As the NY Times reports this morning, "The Department of Education said yesterday that it would consider the proposal."

This is welcome news indeed. In Newark the Ed Department partnered with "Got Breakfast!" and the not-for-profit advocacy group helped boost participation. Maybe that's a good place to begin.