Thursday, August 09, 2007

Post Toasties: Breakfast of Chumpions

We've been reading local editorials in this town for over fifty years-admittedly, we did start young. Still, even with all of these years of editorial reading behind us, we don't think we've ever seen something quite as silly as today's editorial, titled Books Before Breakfast, in the NY Post.

Now we have come to admire the Post's levelheaded editorial posture on many issues of the day-it is one of the few local dailies to stand up four square on behalf of business in this city-particularly small business. Which is why today's observation in the paper was so jarring to us; it comes from being captive of a certain ideological point-of-view and, because of that, not being able to break out and see the facts on the ground clearly.

In this case it is about school breakfast program, a DOE effort that is woefully inadequate in meeting its basic mission: simply feeding as many of the eligible children as possible. In New York City's case, only 29% of those eligible are availing themselves of the free meals-compared to 94% in Newark. The Post, however, sees little wrong with the abysmal numbers.

The reason? It lies with the fact that Tuesday's press conference was led by Joel Berg and the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, a group that the Post disdains. In this case disdain clouds the paper's good judgment. The best example of this failure is the following: "Funny, we thought that students turning down free food is a fairly good indication that they're, well, not hungry."

The paper goes on to observe that the low participation rates are indicative of the fact that: "Hunger is simply not a problem in New York City." The real problem according to the Post is not hunger, but obesity. Think again. There is a real correlation between the fact that kids are not eating breakfast and the prevalence of obesity. When we taught many moons ago, and from what we've heard the situation hasn't changed that drastically, kids would come in to class with a bag of chip, a soda and some form of candy in a brown bag.

The issue here isn't hunger per se, but what the kids are eating and how what they're consuming affects their learning. The consumption of high sugar breakfasts leads to a temporary high, followed by a lethargy that weakens concentration and prompts the desire for more sugar in an addictive cycle (something to do with insulin). Learning is negatively impacted and the poor dietary choices are a direct contributory factor in the rising rates of childhood obesity.

Don't take our word for it. In a study done under the auspices of the Nutrition Consortium of New York it was demonstrated that a nutritious breakfast had a dramatic impact on school educational outcomes. Attention spans increased and school performance was enhanced. The key was feeding the kids in the classroom.

Which underscores the misguided nature of the Post's take on all of this; "None of this is, of course, is to diminish the struggles poor families endure to provide for their children-struggles that very often involve New York's still-dismal educational system...In fact, that's precisely why it would be a shame for New Yorkers to pay too much attention to the hunger lobby om this issue. Gotham schools have a lot that needs fixing-but breakfast isn't even near the top of the list."

The Post couldn't possibly be more off base here-getting the nutrition and obesity dynamic wrong, and then missing widely on the educational correlation between a good breakfast and improved school outcomes. Which is not to say that the delivery of an improved school breakfast program is without obstacles-and the classroom venue does pose a challenge. The failure to understand the importance of the effort, however, only gives an excuse to the DOE, which has lagged woefully behind other school districts in the delivery of a healthy breakfast for school kids.