Elementary students are more likely to eat a nutritious school breakfast when given just 10 extra minutes in the cafeteria, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics.

Breakfast consumption rose even higher when breakfasts were served inside the classroom, but the researchers acknowledged that this is not a feasible option for most schools.

Researchers at Virginia Tech and Georgia Southern University observed how students change their breakfast consumption levels when given extra time to eat in a school cafeteria. They also compared cafeteria breakfasts to in-classroom breakfasts in the same group of students.

“It’s by far the most sophisticated, accurate measurement of school breakfast intake ever done,” said Dr. Klaus Moeltner, a professor of agricultural and applied economics in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “We know exactly how much the students consumed and how much time they had to consume it.”

With the use of food-weighing stations developed by co-author Dr. Karen Spears of Georgia Southern University, the researchers gathered data on the number of students who ate a school breakfast, how much they ate, and their exact nutritional intake.

The researchers found that the students consumed 20 percent more of their breakfasts when they were given 10 extra minutes to eat in the cafeteria. This number increased to 35-45 percent when the breakfasts were served and eaten inside the classroom.

“The percent of students that go without breakfast because they didn’t eat at home and they didn’t have time to eat at school goes from 4 to 0 percent when given 10 minutes more to eat, so the most vulnerable segment is taken care of,” said Moeltner.

Although the findings suggest that more students eat breakfast when it is served inside classrooms, the researchers acknowledge the extra costs associated with in-classroom breakfasts.

“When you move breakfast into the classroom, you have to serve all the students for free, and the associated costs needed to feed all the students must be covered by low income subsidies,” said Moeltner.

“But many schools don’t have a large enough proportion of subsidized students and therefore cannot afford to serve in-classroom breakfasts because they lack the subsidies to offset the costs.”

Thus, the findings have significant implications for schools that cannot afford classroom breakfasts, but could allow more time for cafeteria breakfasts.

The findings also reveal deeper insights into student breakfast consumption habits.

For the study, 3rd- and 4th-grade students from three schools in the Reno, Nevada, area were given wristbands as they arrived on campus that tracked their arrival time as well as individual consumption and nutrition data.

The students also completed a daily questionnaire to determine whether they ate breakfast at home, how hungry they were upon arrival at school, which transportation method they used to get to school, and whether they liked any of the food offered.

Analysis of the data showed that the transportation method used to get to school did not affect whether or not students ate breakfast, and that students did not overeat because of the extra time provided.

“Our results show that there’s no change in average consumption, which is reassuring,” said Moeltner. “Kids aren’t overeating because of the extra time. Instead, they’re substituting — if they used to eat breakfast at home, now they eat it at school.”

The researchers are now turning their attention toward the breakfast waste found during the study with hopes of publishing further research on the topic. For now, the researchers advise educational institutions and policymakers to consider implementing additional time for school breakfasts.

Source: Virginia Tech