Industries in Depth

France is about to start giving free breakfasts to disadvantaged schoolchildren

French Junior Minister attached to the Education Minister Gabriel Attal has lunch with students in the canteen of an EPIDE (Etablissement pour l'insertion dans l'emploi) school ahead of a national debate session, in Etang-sur-Arroux, France February 7, 2019. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS - RC1A5F387030

The initiative will be rolled out to 100,000 pupils by autumn. Image: REUTERS

Kate Whiting
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France

Growing minds need fuel, but 1 in 8 children in certain French schools are starting a day off learning on an empty stomach.

So France has become the latest country to introduce a free breakfast scheme to boost students’ educational performance.

Announcing the $6.7 million (€6 million) of initial funding, the French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer and Junior Health and Solidarity Minister Christelle Dubos said: “The goal is to allow children to begin the day without an empty stomach, so they stay focused throughout the morning and therefore learn in the best of conditions. The measure will contribute to reducing inequality starting at the earliest age.”

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A pilot project, giving schoolchildren a healthy, free breakfast, has already been running since early April in eight areas, including the cities of Lille, Montpellier and Reims, and the overseas territory of La Réunion.

It will be rolled out to 100,000 pupils by the autumn, at “priority education network” schools, which receive extra resources to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and other schools in some poor urban neighbourhoods and rural areas.

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Healthy key to learning

UK university researchers have found a meaningful link between healthy breakfast foods and primary school children’s SAT test scores.

The scientists said their study backed other research suggesting that eating breakfast foods such as oats, with a lower glycaemic index that release energy steadily throughout the morning, “may have a positive effect on students’ cognitive functioning, health, school attendance and academic outcomes”.

In short, breakfast helps children concentrate and to remember what they have learned.

Global problem

Similar schemes already operate in the US and the UK, where the children’s charity Unicef has found food insecurity to be particularly high among high-income countries.

The UK government announced $33.7 million (£26 million) to provide breakfast clubs for 1,770 schools in disadvantaged areas by March 2020, paid for by a tax on soft drinks.

The US Department of Agriculture set up the School Breakfast Program in 1966. In 1989, 658 million breakfasts were served - rising to 2.4 billion by 2016, with 79% of those given free, costing $4.2 billion.

Global hunger is rising. According to the United Nations, one in nine people in the world (821 million) is undernourished.

But by giving schoolchildren breakfast for free, France and other countries are taking steps to tackle it.

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