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Free school breakfasts

14 January 2014

Bowl of cereal with a spoon

Universal free school breakfasts may increase healthy eating and reduce breakfast skipping among children from disadvantaged backgrounds, according to University research.

The research, examining the impact of the Welsh Government's Primary School Free Breakfast Initiative, was carried out by Dr Graham Moore, Dr Simon Murphy and Professor Laurence Moore (now at Glasgow University) of the Centre for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement (DECIPHer), based in the University's School of Social Sciences, with colleagues from Swansea University.

The initiative aims to improve the health of children in Wales by making free, healthy breakfasts available to all maintained primary schools. This differs from other breakfast club programmes, such as those in England, which have not been offered universally and tend to target schools in areas of deprivation.

The research team examined whether this universal provision, as opposed to targeted interventions, helped reduce inequality or if they had the opposite effect - widening inequality through disproportionately benefiting more affluent groups.

Dr Moore said: "In some settings, breakfast provision continues to be targeted toward areas of deprivation. However, targeted approaches may actually be a barrier to the uptake of school food interventions amongst children from poorer families, because of the stigma attached. Attention is increasingly turning to the need to identify interventions that are delivered universally but have a greater impact on individuals further down the socioeconomic distribution. This study provides important evidence that universal provision of free school breakfasts can benefit children from poorer backgrounds, in terms of discouraging breakfast skipping and increasing the consumption of healthier breakfast items.

"Offering free breakfast provision on a universal rather than targeted basis may play a significant role in reducing inequalities in health, and is unlikely to widen them. Making free breakfasts available to all pupils would avoid the stigmatisation of individuals, schools, families or communities which may occur when labelling them as needy, and may play a greater role in reducing social gradients in health outcomes."

The study, 'Impacts of the Primary School Free Breakfast Initiative on socioeconomic inequalities in breakfast consumption among 9-11 year old schoolchildren in Wales', is published in the journal Public Health Nutrition.