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Food in Schools - The Issue

Food in Schools
The Issue
• A 2005 study by New Zealand researchers concluded that “a significant number of New Zealand children’s diets were so poor that their brain functioning was affected”.1

• This impact on student achievement is only getting worse with the number of children living in hardship increasing from 15 per cent in 2007 to 21 per cent last year.2 There are now 270,000 children living in poverty.

• Hunger and poverty is one of the reasons socio-economic background has a larger impact on student achievement in New Zealand than in any other OECD country.3

• Every week 40,000 kids turn up to school without breakfast or without lunch and are fed by charities.4

• But there a more kids who need help. The last nationwide survey of children’s nutrition undertaken by the Ministry of Health found 83,000 children aged 5 to 14, sometimes or often went to school without breakfast.5

Current Situation

• Non-profits like KidsCan and churches as well as businesses like Sanitarium and Fonterra (through the Kickstart programme) are already doing a great job providing students at low decile schools with free food, but they don’t reach every school and every kid that needs it.

• Last year a food in schools programme run by the Red Cross, which fed 1,600 children every day, was forced to close down after its main food sponsor pulled out.6

• National is ignoring the problem. Last year they spent $562,874 on sports funding for private schools7 yet only spent barely half that ($317,000) on support for organisations providing free food in low decile schools.8

Labour’s Proposal

• Labour will partner with community and voluntary organisations, incorporating the most cost-effective approaches currently operating, to provide free food in every decile 1-3 primary, intermediate school that needs and wants it.

• There are 650 decile 1-3 primary and intermediate schools in New Zealand with a total of roll of 119,135 students.9


• There are a range of estimates of what would be required to fund a credible food in schools programme. The final cost of Labour’s food in schools initiative will depend on the design of the programme, the type of meals provided and the input and support received from the lo¬cal community and businesses.

• The Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty cites a figure of $3 million for the poorest 40% of schools, based upon estimates from KidsCan.10

• The Child Poverty Action Group has estimated that it would cost $18.9 million a year to provide breakfasts for the poorest 30% of primary and intermediate schools.11 That includes $10.9 million for food and $8 million for administration costs which would be substantially reduced by Labour’s partnership approach.

The Benefits

• By ensuring that every decile 1-3 student has access to at least one healthy and filling meal each day they are at school, this proposal will remove a significant barrier to student’s learn¬ing and achievement.

• Here is a sample of major studies on the link between nutrition and children’s learning:12

Poor school performance can also be improved through the provision of breakfasts in schools. In Massachussetts, children who participated in a school breakfast programme achieved higher test scores and had reduced absenteeism (Meyers, Sampson, Weitzman, Rogers, & Kayne, 1989).

There is now a substantial body of research showing breakfast consumption contributes to students’ academic performance and school attendance (Rampersaud, Pereira, Girard, Adams, & Metzl, 2005).

Eating a good quality breakfast has been found to slow the rate children’s cognitive performance declines during the morning (Ingwersen, Defeyter, Kennedy, Wesnes, & Scholey, 2006).

A controlled study in Minnesota that provided a nutritious breakfast to primary-aged children found children who participated showed “better concentration, increased alertness and energy, and a decrease in stomach aches and headaches.” Other benefits included “a decrease in discipline problems, and benefits in social behaviour, attendance, and a general increase in math and reading scores” (Wahlstrom & Begalle, 1999).

A Boston study that provided free breakfasts to children in public schools likewise found that among the children who consumed breakfast, there was a significant improvement in maths tests scores and a decrease in the number of days they were absent (Kleinman et al., 2002).

Research consistently shows that children who do not have adequate food at home are likely to be more frequently absent or late to school than their peers, have lower academic achievement and poorer performance, especially in numeracy and literacy, and difficulty concentrating (Yates, et. al., 2010)

1 2005 ‘A Rapid Review of the Literature on the Association Between Nutrition and School Pupil Performance’
2 Perry 2012 ‘Household Incomes in New Zealand’
3 2011 ‘Does socio-economic background affect reading performance?’ OECD page 2.
4 July 2011 ‘Our hungry kids: 40,000 NZ kids fed by charities’ NZherald
5 July 2011 ‘Our hungry kids: 40,000 NZ kids fed by charities’ NZherald
6 25/05/2011 J. Sutton ‘Breakfast may be off menu’
7 28/06/2012 ‘Question for Written Answer 5025(2012)’ Parliament
8 KidsCan 2011 Annual Report
9 July 2012 School Roll, Ministry of Education
10 August 2012 ‘Education Solutions to Mitigate Child Poverty’ Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty pg.14
11 2011 ‘Hunger for Learning’ Child Poverty Action Group Pg.37.
12 Compiled by Child Poverty Action Group 2011 ‘Hunger for Learning’
Authorised by David Shearer, Parliament Buildings, Wellington

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