Utah worst in nation for feeding students breakfast at school

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SALT LAKE CITY — A new report puts Utah at the bottom of the class when it comes to feeding children breakfast at school.

The Food Research and Action Center looked at the numbers and ranked Utah 51st in the nation on its School Breakfast Scorecard. However, some local school district leaders say the numbers tell only half the story.

The scorecard, which ranks all 50 states and the District of Columbia, puts New Mexico at the top of the list, with 70.2 percent of its eligible students participating in school breakfast programs. The District of Columbia is ranked No. 2, with 69.5 percent of eligible students participating; and West Virginia rounds out the top three, with 65 percent of eligible students participating.

School Breakfast Scorecard rankings

Top 3 in the nation:

  1. New Mexico
  2. District of Columbia
  3. West Virginia

Bottom 3 in the nation:

  1. Utah
  2. New Hampshire
  3. Nebraska

Source: School Breakfast Scorecard

Utah is at the bottom of the list, with the state only serving breakfast to 33.9 percent of its eligible students. New Hampshire is the second worst, at 38.2 percent, followed by Nebraska, at 38.9 percent.

That means Utah schools are feeding breakfast to 60,000 students — almost enough to fill LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo. But the state has more than 120,000 kids who are eligible to eat reduced or free breakfast at school.

Teenagers KSL News talked with Tuesday had their own theory as to why they missed the most "important meal of the day".

"They just are running out the door to get to school," high school student Kylie Gines said. "They just don't take the time to do it."

"Some of us just wake up late and come to school," another student named Carlos said. "It's not something we're used to doing in the morning."

The good news is most Utah schools do serve breakfast.

"What we're less good at is reaching those kids who really need school breakfast, and part of that is the way we serve school breakfast," said Gina Cornia, executive director Utahns Against Hunger.

The study does not address whether those students are eating breakfast at home.

By the numbers ...

  • In top-ranked New Mexico, 70.2 low-income children ate school breakfast for every 100 low-income children eating school lunch.
  • Nevada had the largest increase in the percentage of low-income children participating in school breakfast, up 39.8 percent from the previous year.
  • West Virginia led in school participation with 100 percent of schools serving lunch also serving breakfast.

Source: School Breakfast Scorecard

Since most schools serve breakfast in the cafeteria, Cornia believes more options would get more kids to eat. She suggested offering breakfast "in the classroom, grab-and-go between recess and before school starts, or breakfast on the bus."

The report also shows Utah is missing out on over $15 million in child nutrition funds by only reaching 34 percent of kids eligible to eat school breakfast. It's money Cornia said could both help schools and Utah families in need.

"We know there are a lot of those families that are struggling, and this is a program that can help those families meet the budget gap," she said.

In 2012, The Canyons School District had at least a couple thousands more students eating school breakfast; and over the last four to five years, school breakfast has increased in the Jordan School District. So, more kids are eating breakfast in some parts of Utah, but the state still has a long way to go.

Contributing: Jordan Ormond


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