Iowa placed near the very bottom of a new study ranking the states for the percentage of low-income students who take part in government-funded school breakfast and lunch programs.
Crystal FitzSimons, spokeswoman for the Food Research and Action Center, says Iowa placed 48th on the annual survey.
“There’s about 72,000 low-income students in Iowa who participate in the school breakfast program and that’s compared to about 178,000 low-income students who participate in the school lunch program,” FitzSimons says. “Iowa’s serving about 40 low-income students breakfast for every 100 that they serve lunch.”
Nationally, more than 11-million low-income kids are receiving free or reduced-price school breakfast. She says Iowa’s numbers are growing, but there’s much progress to be made. The report shows the number of Iowa kids who eat free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch at school has grown by only 2.2% in the past five years.
“There’s a lot of families that are struggling to put food on the table,” FitzSimons says. “Families who rely on free and reduced-price school lunch often would really benefit from having access to breakfast as well. The challenge with the school breakfast program is that it’s often run before the school day starts so kids have to get to school early in order to participate.”
Given commute times and bus schedules, the hour of day often makes it difficult for a child to get to school early enough to take part. Some schools have moved breakfast into the classroom, making it part of the school day, and FitzSimons says that seems to be working.
“States that are having an easier time feeding low-income children breakfast are doing those kinds of models,” FitzSimons says. “They’re delivering breakfast in the classroom, they have grab-and-go breakfasts where kids can grab breakfast when they get off the bus and take it into the classroom or eat it on their way to class and those strategies really do increase participation in the school breakfast program.”
Research shows good nutrition, and eating breakfast in particular, is important for cognitive functioning and academic success.
The survey of the 50 states and the District of Columbia ranked Iowa 48th, only ahead of Nebraska, New Hampshire and Utah. The top performers are: West Virginia, New Mexico and Washington D.C.
The Food Research and Action Center is a national non-profit anti-hunger organization that does research, advocacy and policy work to increase families’ access to federal nutrition programs.