BOSTON — Schools that offer free breakfasts to their students reported higher math scores and lower absenteeism, a recent study revealed.
Conducted by Harvard University and sponsored by Project Bread, it found that students who participated more frequently in school breakfast programs cut their absence rate to 6.3 days a year from 9.2 days a year, were better behaved, and improved math grades. Performance in subjects other than math was not affected.
There could be a nutritional benefit to eating breakfast before school, or reducing hunger may just help students concentrate, said Robert Kleinman of Massachusetts General Hospital. He directed the study with Michael Murphy, a Harvard Medical School psychologist.
Dr. Kleinman added that breakfast programs could also simply help organize the day and provide some stability, which in turn might improve classroom dynamics overall.
A 1996 Tufts study found similar benefits to free school breakfasts, and a 1989 study showed students who ate breakfast performed better on standardized tests.
The Harvard study brought free breakfast to 16 Boston schools. One-fourth of the students were classified as being hungry or at risk of hunger, and those students were more likely to have emotional or behavioral problems and poor grades.
Two-thirds of students in that group increased their participation in the breakfast program over six months.
Breakfast was also served in three classrooms. In that group, participation increased to 54 percent from 27 percent.
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