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Healthy minds need healthy bodies



Published: Thu, August 30, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Children may be hungry for knowledge, but if their tummies are hungry for breakfast, their minds are less likely to get the nourishment they need. So the decision by the Youngstown City Schools to offer free breakfast to every child in the district makes good sense.

Although 80 percent of children in the city schools are eligible for free or reduced-price breakfasts under federal guidelines, only about 27 percent take advantage of the program. While some kids and their families may not know about the program and others can't drag themselves out of bed the 15 or so minutes earlier that they'll need to get to school to take advantage of the school meal, many others don't participate because of the stigma attached to admitting that a child comes from a low-income home. But with every child given the opportunity to receive the needed nutrition, school district officials hope that many more youngsters will start the day off well.

And even if some children are already getting breakfast at home, few active kids would be harmed by a few hundred extra calories.

Breakfast: While starting the day with a good breakfast should be common sense, even children in affluent families are often out the door with little more than a doughnut. But it's not as if the family cupboards -- or refrigerator -- are bare. Children from low-income homes, in contrast, may have little option but to leave for school hungry. Parents may be at jobs when their children leave for school, leaving kids of necessity to fend for themselves. As a result, breakfast may be neglected.

At school, however, staff members are available to make sure that the children who want breakfast can get the milk, juice, cereal and other foods that will help them focus on schoolwork instead of a grumbling stomach.

Researchers at the Harvard Medical School and the Child Psychiatry Service of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have found that children from hungry families are two to three times more likely to have behavior and scholastic problems than children in low-income families that are not classified as hungry.

Poor children face many obstacles as they try to achieve academic success. With the Youngstown schools breakfast program, at least they'll be able to start their day with the vitamins, minerals and energy source that active brains require.




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