Students who go to school hungry lose 2 hours of productivity every day: report

Playful siblings having breakfast together. Getty Images.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but many people don’t realize just how important a morning meal is to a child’s ability to learn.

According to a recent survey by Kellogg Canada, the vast majority of teachers report large differences in a child’s behaviour depending on whether or not they’ve had breakfast. According to the report, 93 per cent of teachers agree that hungry children are more disruptive in class.

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On average, teachers estimated that children who come to school hungry lose up to two hours a day due to lack of productivity – that’s one-third of the school day or almost four months in a school year. This equates to more than four years of a child’s school career from Kindergarten to Grade 12

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“This is not someone else’s problem,” said Paul Jones, Radio Voice of the Toronto Raptors and a former elementary school teacher and principal. “Hunger makes students disruptive, which makes it more difficult for teachers to teach. Lost productivity can become an issue for every single student in the class. Ultimately it’s in everyone’s best interest to ensure all students start their school day ready to learn. That’s why school breakfast clubs are so crucial,” he said in a statement.

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There are a number of school breakfast programs across Canada, including the Breakfast Club of Canada, Breakfast for Learning, and others. According to data from The Breakfast Club of Canada, the problem goes beyond children simply declining to eat breakfast before leaving the house. The data shows that one-fifth of Canadian children are at risk of starting the day on an empty stomach due to lack of access to nutritious food. In Indigenous communities, the ratio increases to half.

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In an interview, Jones equates starting the school day without a nutritious breakfast as attempting to go for a run without tying your shoes.

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“It’s like saying, go out for a run. Your shoes aren’t great and you can’t tie them, but go out and run.” He goes on to say that while breakfast programs like these provide what is to some kids, an essential service, there aren’t enough to go around.

“They do provide what kids need. Unfortunately, I don’t think there are enough of them. Especially in areas where they’re really needed, those areas that are socioeconomically challenged,” Jones said.

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In recent years, several groups, including the Coalition for Healthy School Food, have been pushing for a national school meal plan to be implemented in schools across Canada. Canada remains the only G8 country without a national school food program. The group recently released a proposal detailing how a national food plan would solve many of the healthy eating challenges of today’s youth.

“Programs across the country don’t reach most Canadian children. Provincial and territorial governments give some funding for school programs, added to by charities, non-profits and corporations. The money allocated by provinces and territories isn’t sufficient to provide a meal program for all the kids in any province or territory,” explained Sasha McNicoll, the co-ordinator of the Coalition for Healthy School Food.

According to the group’s proposal paper, one-third of students in elementary school and two-thirds of students in high secondary schools do not eat a nutritious breakfast before school.

In a study completed by the Toronto District School Board, there are also noticeable differences further down the educational path between students who did not eat breakfast regularly and students who did. In Grade 10, 78 per cent of students who ate breakfast on a regular basis were on track to graduate, having accumulated more credits, whereas the same can be said for just 61 per cent of students who ate morning meals only a few days or not at all.

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“There’s no doubt that concentration is impacted by hunger,” explained McNicoll. She goes on to say that providing breakfast at school is one way to teach kids about independent healthy eating. “Children spend more than half their waking hours at school, so schools are a great way to not only provide needed calories to children but to instill healthy eating behaviours early on.”

From July 18th to July 22nd, 2016 and July 25th to July 28th, 2017 an online survey was conducted among 405 randomly selected Canadian elementary, middle and high school teachers who are Angus Reid Forum panelists. 

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