City Council Discusses School Breakfast Proposal in Face of DOH Backlash

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The City Council's Committee on Education held a hearing today to discuss two proposed resolutions related to the Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC) program. BIC provides breakfast to children in city schools through one of two models: the hallway grab-and-go option or physical, in-classroom implementation. (by Alissa Fleck) One proposed resolution calls on the City's Department of Education to support BIC in all schools, while the other calls on the State Legislature to pass legislation supporting BIC in every school in the City. Council members and other advocates pushed for these resolutions as New York City has "the lowest school breakfast participation rate among low-income students across 26 large urban districts," according to a statement by the Council. The City ranks last in terms of children with access to breakfast; currently less than four percent of kids in the City receive in-classroom breakfast. Executive Director of the NYC Coalition Against Hunger Joel Berg presented these disconcerting statistics: 500,000 (1 in 4) NYC children reside in homes where breakfast is financially out of the question. The numbers are staggering. "I understand disagreements on ideology and budget," said Berg. "But the weight of the data here is overwhelmingly compelling." Berg also dispelled the powerful rumor amongst the Department of Health, Mayor Bloomberg and some community members that the BIC program would promote childhood obesity, particularly in cases where children consumed breakfast at home and at school. "What increases obesity is skipping meals," said Berg. "This is a hunger crisis. No studies show extra breakfast promotes obesity." The Department of Education continues to defer to the DOH on the program, and while BIC is strongly supported by politicians like Speaker Quinn, advocates say the DOH does not appear willing to bend on its stance. Matthew Nolte of the Greater New York Dietetic Association said registered dietitians support BIC, and cited the importance of breakfast in its ability to positively impact a student's focus in the classroom. Nolte also pointed to the high rate of obesity (around 20%) that currently exists among children K-8 without the program in place. Executive Director of the Hunger Action Network of NYS Mark Dunlea said a program like BIC would get the City $50 million in federal reimbursement, but Bloomberg continues to oppose it on the purported "second breakfasting" leads to obesity argument, which Dunlea calls an urban myth. The USDA requirement for federal reimbursement supports a breakfast which meets guidelines for health and well-roundedness, explained Berg. Nolte followed up by pointing out the main issue is not so much "second breakfasting" as a lack of quality nutrition in the home in the first place. The BIC program would provide nutritionally-sound meals so kids would not have to depend on what's available-or not available-at home. Another concern presented was that advertisement of the program may actually influence parents to feed their children less. Advocates responded by pointing to the numbers; where the program has been implemented, absenteeism has decreased and test scores have increased. Councilmember Stephen Levin, a co-sponsor who spoke in support of the proposed resolutions, said providing breakfast is crucial in reducing absenteeism in the classroom. In support, Berg pointed to a case in a Bronx school where the BIC program was implemented-systematic tardiness was reduced from fifty-five students to just five. Responding to criticism that BIC might cause disruption in the classroom, Levin pointed out he brought breakfast to the hearing and was not "making a mess or causing disruption." Councilmember Brad Lander joked only hobbits can eat too many breakfasts. "This is not a public health crisis," he said. He added we need more teacher proponents and ambassadors to back these proposals. "This is about the real world, not the theoretical food pyramid," said Dunlea. "The needs of children must be placed higher."

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