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JPAM Featured Article: The Effect of Breakfast in the Classroom on Obesity and Academic Performance: Evidence from New York City

June 2, 2016 10:05 AM

"The Effect of Breakfast in the Classroom on Obesity and Academic Performance: Evidence from New York City"

As part of our ongoing effort to promote JPAM authors to the APPAM membership and the public policy world at large, we are asking JPAM authors to answer a few questions to promote their research article on the APPAM website.

By: Sean P. Corcoran, Brian Elbel and Amy Ellen Schwartz

What was the genesis/history of the idea for your research?

New York City (NYC) is paying attention to childhood obesity, which is a pressing public health concern. The NYC Department of Education Office of School Food is piloting new interventions, expanding programs and collecting data to monitor progress, creating opportunities to learn what works in reducing obesity. Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC), is a spreading program that moves breakfast out of the cafeteria before school starts and into the classroom after the start of school with the intent to increase participation in school breakfast by reaching students unable or unwilling to arrive early to school.  Despite the widely shared view that breakfast is important for attention, learning, health and eating habits, many children do not eat breakfast before coming to school, and food insecurity remains a problem for too many. Some concerns were raised in the popular press about BIC potentially contributing to weight gain, as some students may consume extra calories by eating two breakfasts – one at home and one at school. Our research investigated this claim, as there was a need for research here.

What is the main conclusion that becomes evident from your research? (Or, what is our main takeaway?)

First, we found that BIC increased participation in school breakfast.  We also found that the program does not contribute to obesity, and in some cases we actually saw it reduced obesity, albeit small and statistically insignificant.

What are some of the more interesting or surprising findings/conclusions, you discovered during this process?

We found no evidence of an impact on academic outcomes.  Despite this, it appears there are added benefits of providing breakfast in the classroom, particularly in regards to encouraging school breakfast participation, with no apparent disadvantages, such as contributing to obesity or taking away from instructional time.

What next steps do you envision should be taken because of your findings academically and/or practically? 

BIC has been widely adopted by school districts across the country, with the goal of ensuring that no child starts the day hungry. We found that the program has the potential to improve food insecurity by increasing participation in school breakfast.  Further research is needed on the longer-term effects on student health and academic success.

Authors' Bio


Sean P. Corcoran, @nyusteinhardt, (Ph.D. Economics, University of Maryland, College Park) is Associate Professor of Educational Economics at NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and affiliated faculty of the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, and Associate Director of NYU’s Institute for Education and Social Policy (IESP). Dr. Corcoran’s research interests are in the Economics of Education, State and Local Public Finance, and Applied Microeconomics. Together with colleagues at NYU, Columbia, and Seton Hall University, he is conducting one of the largest randomized control trials of information supports for school choice ever conducted. Dr. Corcoran serves on the editorial boards of the journals Education Finance and Policy, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, and the American Education Research Journal, and is a former member of the board of directors of the Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP). 



Brian Elbel, PhD, @BrianElbel, is an Associate Professor of Population Health and Health Policy at the NYU School of Medicine and affiliated faculty at the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. Dr. Elbel studies how individuals make decisions that influence their health and healthcare, with a particular emphasis on evaluation, obesity and food choice. He directs the CDC-funded NYU Nutrition and Obesity Policy Research and Evaluation Network (NOPREN). His research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the National Science Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the New York State Health Foundation, and the Aetna Foundation. Dr. Elbel has a B.A. from The University of Texas at Austin and an MPH and PhD in Health Policy/Health Economics from Yale University.



Amy Ellen Schwartz (Ph.D. Economics, Columbia University), @MaxwellSU, is the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Professor in Public Affairs at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University and Director of the Institute for Education and Social Policy at New York University. Her research interests span a broad range of issues in education policy, urban economics and public finance. Professor Schwartz’s work has been published in a range of journals including Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (EEPA), The Journal of Human Resources (JHR), Journal of Policy Analysis and Management (JPAM) and Education Finance and Policy (EFP). Her research has been funded through grants from federal agencies, such as the Institute for Education Sciences, the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and foundations, including the Spencer Foundation, MacArthur Foundation and WT Grant Foundation. In 2009 she served as the President of the Association for Education Finance and Policy and is currently the Editor of Education Finance and Policy.


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