Children who eat breakfast in school do better in math and miss fewer class days, according to a new national study released Wednesday.
"The simple act of feeding kids a healthy school breakfast can have a dramatic impact on their academic, health, and economic futures," the study concluded.
The report was created for Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit working to end childhood hunger in America through its No Kid Hungry campaign.
The study, called "Ending Childhood Hunger: A Social Impact Analysis," was done pro bono by Deloitte, an accounting consulting firm that also performs community-service work. The No Kid Hungry campaign also gets support from the Kellogg's cereal company.
Deloitte analyzed national demographic data to learn that children who eat school breakfast score an average of 17.5 percent higher on math tests.
Also, students who eat school breakfast attend class an average of 1.5 days more per year, Deloitte found.
Extrapolating from those findings, Deloitte said that the combination of higher attendance and increased math scores means kids who eat school breakfast are 20 percent more likely to graduate high school.
As adults, such people would make more money and be less likely to experience hunger, the Deloitte analysis concluded.
"The study identifides important linkages between feeding kids and academic success," said Josh Wachs, chief strategy officer at Share Our Strength. "It shows that ending child hunger isn't just the right thing to do, but the smart thing, because it's an investment in our nation's future."
Asked to analyze the Deloitte findings, Crystal FitzSimmons, an expert on school feeding for the Food Research and Action Center - America's leading antihunger advocacy group - said the study supports ongoing research.
"School breakfast has an impact on student achievement, attendance, and tardiness," FitzSimmons said.
Besides, she added, school breakfast is now vital because "a lot of families are really struggling to put food on the table. The program is important so kids are not going hungry."
These days, one out of five American children struggles with hunger, federal figures show. And three out of five teachers say they teach kids who regularly come to school hungry, Deloitte reported.
In schools like Philadelphia's, low-income students especially rely on school breakfast, noted Julie Zaebst, interim executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger.
Although school breakfast is universally considered to be essential for health and learning, however, there is a wide disparity in the number of students who get served these meals in Philadelphia schools.
A recent analysis by Public Citizens for Children and Youth, a Philadelphia children's advocacy group, showed, for example, that while 92 percent of students eat breakfast at Moffet Elementary School in Kensington, just 12 percent eat breakfast at Pastorius Elementary School in Germantown.
Principals are generally considered to be the main factor in the success or failure of breakfast service, according to Kathy Fisher, director of family economic secuity at PCCY. The organization has urged principals at underperforming schools to improve.
Sympathetic to the big job principals have running schools, Fisher nevertheless said, "There's so much research like Deloitte's showing the proven benefits of breakfast for kids. A little extra effort on their behalf goes a long way."
Nationally, efforts are underway to make a good thing better, experts say.
Just as federal law mandated school lunches become more healthy last year, school breakfasts will become more nutritional beginning next fall, with more fruits and whole grains, and less salt, FitzSimmons of FRAC said.