School breakfasts in Toronto found to be highly effective

May 21, 2012

A major study in a poverty-ridden section of Toronto found student grades rose, graduation rates rose, and attendance rose when students were fed breakfast.

The study by the The Toronto Foundation for Student Success spent three years giving breakfasts to 6,000 students in seven middle and high schools in the Jane-Finch neighborhood, one of the city's most troubled areas.

The study started with 61 percent of the students ready to graduate.  After three years of the breakfast program, 78 percent will graduate.

Other results find drops in suspensions and more students successfully studying science and math.

"Twenty-six percent of the children reported that their health was much better, and that showed in their attendance patterns," said Foundation Executive Director and CEO Catherine Parsonage.

Parsonage says it took a time to figure out what worked. She says in-room breakfasts have proven to be more effective than a buffet-style meal, where only about half of the kids participated.

"When it's in the classroom and teacher is eating, too, and it's during announcements or a time when they're doing quieter work, we found that we had almost 90 percent of the children participating every day," Parsonage told WBFO and AM 970 News.

Parsonage says the school system is now working with city, provincial, and federal governments to find enough money to feed all students breakfast and, perhaps, lunch.