Stigma Not Hampering Breakfast Programs, Study Finds

September 25, 2008 - News Release

A common belief that social stigma is discouraging children from participating in breakfast clubs is not true, according to a University of Guelph study.

Applied human nutrition professors Susan Evers and John Dwyer found a majority of children and parents don't attach any stigma to child nutrition programs offered through schools or communities.

"Stigma was a huge concern when these programs started in the early 1990s," said Evers. "But we found that the children didn't perceive any stigma and wanted to come to a breakfast club to be with friends and because it was fun."

These findings disprove the argument that breakfast clubs are ineffective because those most in need may not be attending because of a perceived social stigma, she said.

"In fact, this argument is one of the reasons these programs aren't fully funded by the provincial or federal government."

The study, which was recently published in the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition, included interviews with more than 100 participants who were involved in 10 programs across Ontario.

Researchers interviewed children in grades 2, 3 and 4 who participated in breakfast or morning snack programs, parents of participating children, parents of non-participating children, program co-ordinators, volunteers and teachers.

Overall, the children participating in the program were positive, and only a few had experienced teasing from peers, said Evers.

"Of all those interviewed, children were the least likely to report experiencing any stigma attached to attending the program."

Program co-ordinators also did not perceive that children attending these programs were stigmatized, she said. But they suggested that children in grades 7 and 8 are more concerned about their image and will find ways to disguise their direct participation in the program by working as a volunteer or going with a younger sibling.

Among the parents with children participating, there was consensus that the breakfast programs were not stigmatizing, said Evers. They were, however, aware that some people believe these programs are only for low-income families.

Overall, parents of children who weren't participating were also supportive of the programs, but some did express concern about the program being misused by irresponsible parents. They suggested there are parents who send their children to the program so they can sleep in or get to work earlier or because they simply don't make the time in the morning to feed their children properly.

"Some parents feel very strongly that it's the parents' responsibility, regardless of whether they are experiencing high levels of food insecurity, to feed their children breakfast. It seems the whole issue of stigma is a perception held by people not involved in the delivery of the program or participating in it."

The way to avoid further stigmatization is to present these programs as universal, she said.

"There needs to be a focus on improved nutrition that enhances classroom learning for all students, rather than alleviating hunger for those in need."

Prof. Susan Evers
Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition
519-824-4120, Ext. 53780

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338/, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982/

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