COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC) – Two-thirds of South Carolina children who are served free or reduced-price lunches also eat breakfast at school, according to a report by the Food Research and Action Center. The rate is the second-highest participation rate in the nation.
The School Breakfast Scorecard reports that in South Carolina, 60.2 percent of students participated in both the school lunch and school breakfast program last year.
Only New Mexico – with a 62.8 percent participation rate – had more children eating breakfast. Vermont ranked third at 59.7 percent.
"Many studies show the link between breakfast and health and learning," said State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex. "We know that breakfast improves nutrition, prevents obesity, increases
students' achievement and reduces school discipline problems. But for some children, a hot breakfast every morning is difficult to come by. By providing hot nutritious meals at school, we are helping students develop good eating habits and improve their chances of academic success."
Rex said that increasing poverty rates in South Carolina are making school breakfast and lunch programs more vital. Two years ago, 54 percent of South Carolina students had family incomes low enough to qualify them for free or reduced-price lunches.
Now, 58 percent qualify.
The FRAC report noted the state's efforts in promoting the benefits of breakfast. The State Department of Education produced a video, "It All Starts with Breakfast," to highlight successful ways to reach more students with school breakfast.
All public schools in South Carolina participate in the federally funded School Breakfast Program which has been required by state law since the 1993-94 school year. Each year, the program serves nearly 37 million breakfasts. On average, about 222,500 students participate in the program each day.
Although the program is available for all students, 84 percent of the breakfasts were served free or at a reduced price.
According to FRAC, persistent poverty, stagnating wages, and skyrocketing food, energy, health, and housing costs cause many families to struggle to provide a healthy and filling morning meal for their children. These problems are compounded by long commutes and nontraditional hours for low-wage workers. As a result, many children miss out on breakfast.
"Nationally, we've seen a real increase in breakfast participation among low-income children both because of the recession and because states generally have slowly been increasing breakfast use, but participation is just not growing fast enough," said FRAC President Jim Weill.
To measure the reach of the School Breakfast Program, FRAC compared the number of schools and the number of low-income children who participate in breakfast to those who participate in the National School Lunch Program. FRAC also sets an attainable participation goal as a way to
gauge state progress and the costs of under-participation in the program.
The United States Department of Agriculture, through its Food and Nutrition Service, administers the School Breakfast Program at the federal level. At the state level, the program typically is administered by state education agencies.