September 26, 2012
Honourable senators, in 1992 a small group of editors at Canadian Living magazine made vision a reality when they established “Breakfast for Learning,” a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to child nutrition. In 1994, a similar movement took place in the province of Quebec, when “Club des petits dejéuners” founder Daniel Germain started his first breakfast program in Lionel-Groulx Primary School on the south shore of Montreal. At the time, these organizations addressed an acute need. Today, that need persists.
Honourable senators, too many Canadian children have poor diets or irregular eating habits. Evidence bears this out in the case of breakfast, the meal that is most frequently skipped. In Canada, 31 per cent of elementary students and 62 per cent of secondary students do not eat a regular breakfast.
This trend exists for a variety of reasons. Social Determinants of Health: The Canadian Facts, published in 2010, estimates 1.1 million Canadian households experience food insecurity, defined as “the inability to have an adequate diet in terms of quality or quantity.”
According to the Canadian Community Health Survey, food insecurity is more common in households with children. Studies indicate these children are more likely to experience a range of behavioural, emotional and academic problems as a result. In addition to social determinants, the plain facts reveal that many parents simply do not have time to prepare breakfast due to busy morning schedules.
School nutrition programs may be one of the simplest tools we have to improve the health of students, regardless of social, economic or environmental barriers. The beneficial results of these programs often appear in the classroom first. Teachers observe better behaviour, lower absenteeism, improved concentration and class participation.
What may be most important is that breakfast programs establish healthy eating habits early. Research shows that eating a regular, high-quality breakfast may be related to appetite and to blood sugar levels, both of which have important implications for the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
After almost two decades in operation, “Breakfast for Learning” has served over 350 million meals. Despite this success, need continues to outstrip resources. In 2010 and 2011, “Breakfast for Learning” could grant only 25 per cent of the funds requested for school nutrition programs in Canada.
Honourable senators, September is “Breakfast for Learning” month. Please join me in recognizing the enduring value of these programs and the efforts of those involved.