School breakfast programs aim to ensure children have an opportunity to start the day with a healthy meal. According to a new study led by University of Michigan and Temple University researchers, these programs may have an unintended effect — increasing the number of children who develop obesity.
The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, followed more than 1,300 middle schoolers at public schools in Philadelphia over two and a half years. Half the schools offered breakfast in the classroom with complimentary breakfast-specific nutrition education. The other half of schools continued offering students breakfast in the cafeteria and nutrition education.
At the end of the study, the proportion of students whose body mass index placed them in overweight or obese ranges as a combined measure did not change significantly. But the proportion of students with obesity increased.
“It wasn’t a study about whether schools should offer breakfast,” said study author Dr. Katherine Bauer, assistant professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “We want to see if there was an effect on weight if breakfast was universally available in the classroom during regular school hours rather than just before school in the cafeteria.”
Researchers aren’t sure what caused the increase in the number of children with obesity. The effect could be unique to older students who may have more freedom to buy food outside school in the morning.
More research is needed to understand whether offering breakfast in the classroom would have a similar effect on obesity among other populations of students.Tags: Friday Letter Submission