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SALT LAKE CITY -- A national report finds that only about a third of Utah students who qualify for and eat free or reduced lunch participate in breakfast programs at their schools.
Utahns Against Hunger wants to find out why.
Mike Evans said his organization will conduct a survey this fall to see why students are less likely to eat breakfast at school compared to lunch.
"It's hard to tell," Evans said. "It could be that they're being fed at home. ... It could be that families aren't aware of it."
It could be that they're being fed at home. ... It could be that families aren't aware of it.
The Food Research and Action Center released its annual School Breakfast Scorecard last week, ranking Utah 51st behind the rest of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in school-breakfast participation. According to FRAC's report, about 34 Utah students from low-income families eat breakfast at school in the morning per every 100 who eat lunch.
Schools offer free and reduced meals through federal programs that reimburse schools based on the number of meals served. Just like with lunch, children who don't qualify for free or reduced-price food can pay for their breakfast at schools where it's offered.
"(Students) do learn better when they're fed," said Luann Elliott, director of the child nutrition office at the State Office of Education. "They participate more, there's less tardiness."
Elliott said her department encourages schools to participate in the program, but it isn't mandatory.
While schools do receive reimbursement, it takes a certain amount of participation to break even due to fixed costs such as personnel and equipment.
"There is a break-even point," said Kelly Orton, director of child nutrition for the Salt Lake School District.
Every elementary, middle and high school in the Salt Lake district offers breakfast before school, Orton said, and in the event a school doesn't break even, the district has decided to absorb those costs.
"Our school board has been very supportive of school breakfast for many years," he said. "We know that without a good breakfast it's hard for students to get started."
According to the State Office of Education, about 37 percent of public school children in the state qualified for free or reduced lunch and breakfast in October 2010.
Elliott said getting to school early is likely a big reason children who eat lunch don't eat school breakfast, but there are ways around that.
"Schools are getting more creative in finding ways to serve kids breakfast," Elliott said.
Some have a breakfast break after first period, others serve breakfast in the classroom to encourage and increase participation. Evans said those options, in addition to outreach, are efforts his organization would like to conduct.
"We'd like to increase participation within each school," he said. "We would really like to help them improve."
Evans said it's likely that children from low-income families who don't eat breakfast at school likely don't get fed in the morning.
"There are a lot of students in our state who are eligible for these free and reduced meals, which means they're probably not getting all that food at home," he said.
The percent of students who qualify for free and reduced meals is slightly up in the state over last year.