NSW Govt Urged to Develop School Breakfast Program
2 February 2016 at 10:00 am
Providing every high school student with access to a free a breakfast, regardless of family income, would drastically improve education and health outcomes for young people, the New South Wales peak youth affairs body has found.
Youth Action released a policy paper, Reducing Breakfast Skipping by Young People in NSW, calling for the implementation of a government funded program, initially targeted at the state’s most at risk areas.
The report found that in NSW more than a quarter of young people did not eat breakfast every morning, and this behaviour increased throughout adolescence. In Year 10 almost half, 46 per cent, of young women and almost one-third, 29 per cent, of young men skipped breakfast frequently.
It also said that young people who skipped breakfast were at greater risk of being overweight or obese, experiencing metabolic syndromes, poor cognition, mood disruptions and decreased school performance.
Youth Action Policy and Advocacy Manager, Jacqui McKenzie, said there was some complexity in the reasons why young people missed breakfast.
“While some young people chose to skip breakfast, in NSW, one in seven young people experience poverty, which means that young people are going without,” McKenzie said.
She said that for those who opted to skip breakfast, a key influence for this behaviour was a result of an environment that emphasised the importance of weight control, dieting and thinness.
“There’s plenty of research that shows body image is a huge concern for both young men and young women in Australia. What our report shows was that skipping meals, often breakfast, is mistakenly perceived as a method of weight control, particularly amongst young women,” she said.
“An examination of secondary students in Victoria found adolescent girls who perceived their best friend skipped meals were far more likely to skip breakfast and dinner.”
However, case studies of successful international and local programs found that a provided breakfast could foster positive environments.
“Relationships with peers and strong peer norms are incredibly formative and influential for young people, which is actually beneficial for increasing uptake of breakfast programs,” McKenzie said.
“One of our case studies from the US, a free school breakfast program in New York City, found that by making breakfast universally available, regardless of socio-economic background, participation in the program increased across all demographics and eliminated any associated stigma using peer group influence.”
Other programs also reported reduced absenteeism and increased productivity, and addressed the growing concern of obesity amongst the Australian population.
Youth Action also said breakfast programs were a good public investment, with Foodbank’s Social Return on Investment report indicating that, for every kilogram of food provided through a school breakfast program in Australia, an equivalent of $110 in social value was earned through improved physical health and school performance.
Youth Action is the peak body for young people and youth services in NSW, and CEO Katie Acheson was recently named in Pro Bono Australia’s Impact 25 for 2015.