While many solutions to address poor academic achievement and attendance rates have focused on in-class interventions or tutoring, there is growing awareness and interest in supporting student performance through non-academic means, including health services. One such area is in addressing food insecurity through free or reduced-price meals in schools.
In a recent study, Chandrasekhar and colleagues examined the influence of the Breakfast After the Bell (BATB) program in Dallas Independent Schools District on student academic performance and student attendance. BATB is a “second-chance breakfast option” for students arriving after the cafeteria has closed for the morning, in which students who arrive late to school can get breakfast and take it to class. Over the course of the 2017-2019 school years, BATB served over 819,000 breakfasts.
In their pre/post study design, Chandrasekhar and colleagues used paired t-tests to examine the differences in mean reading and math scores, and school days attended over the course of two years for students who participated in BATB and those who did not (a sample of 30,493 students in grades 5-12).
While there were no significant differences in reading or math scores over the 2 years of the program when comparing treatment students to comparison students, when comparing treatment students to their own pre-test scores, BATB participants did demonstrate a statistically significant increase in reading scores over that time (p<.001). In addition, when adjusting for influential covariates, including grade, age, sex, and race/ethnicity, BATB participants were found to be more than 2.55 times more likely to attend school. This study suggests the benefits of a larger, experimental study to further understand the impact of nutrition programs for underserved populations, but also suggests that nutrition interventions focused on diverse high school students (where there are higher rates of chronic absenteeism) can have promising impacts on improving attendance rates.
Source: Chandrasekhar, A., Xie, L., Mathew, M. S., Fletcher, J. G., Craker, K., Parayil, M., & Messiah, S. E. (2023). Academic and attendance outcomes after participation in a school breakfast program. Journal of School Health, 93(6), 508–514. https://doi.org/10.1111/josh.13320