A few months ago, Social Service Providers Aotearoa asked me to review the literature on school breakfast programmes and provide an assessment of whether public funding of school breakfast programmes offered value for money. I spoke on the issue in Wellington and in Christchurch in February. As the government seems to be looking at the Mana Party’s proposals around food in schools, it seems worth posting things here as summary.
I was only looking at school breakfast programmes, and so I can’t here comment on school lunch programmes. I’m not sure why we’d expect results to vary greatly, but it’s worth having the caveat.
Anyway, on my best read of the literature, it’s hard to make a case for that we’d get any great benefit from the programmes. Rather, we often find that they don’t even increase the odds that kids eat breakfast at all. Many shift breakfast from at-home to at-school, but among those who hadn’t bothered with breakfast before the programme, not many wind up starting when schools provide it. You can then get kids reporting that they’re less hungry as consequence of the programmes, but it’s awfully hard to reject that the main thing going on is that kids are eating at 9 at school instead of at 7 at home and are consequently less hungry when asked at 11.
This is what tends to happen with any programme or subsidy that is not targeted.
If you (for example) make medical insurance tax deductible, it doesn’t tend to increase the number of people with medical insusrance. It just allows fairly well off people to pay less tax.
Very few kids don’t have breakfast because their parents can’t afford one. They cost very very little if done at home. By comparison, they cost a lot if done centrally.
A legislated requirement for the Government to provide breakfasts for all school children is a bad way to try and solve the problem of kinds turning up at school unfed.Tags: Eric Crampton, food in schools