Happiness is a warm stomach

16th February 1996 at 00:00
Bacon rolls, cereals and hot drinks are on sale at bargain prices from 7.20am to 8.20am each morning. This is the Breakfast Club in the cafeteria of Aberdeen's Hazlehead Academy and the menu has been designed to fortify pupils for the day ahead.

The club is an imaginative and effective initiative devised because staff were becoming increasingly concerned by "the significant number of children who were arriving at school looking washed out or, worse, actually fainting and needing the attentions of the school's nurse", Bob Holmes, an assistant headteacher, says. "We identified the particular needs of the pupils who were repeatedly visiting the school nurse."

Hazlehead Academy, on the western edge of the city, calls itself "the most comprehensive of comprehensives", drawing a thousand pupils from a densely populated housing estate and an affluent middle-class community. It became clear that many children were arriving without having eaten breakfast and the school's health education group decided to run a pilot scheme. There were two conditions: school funds should not be involved and the food must be basic but nourishing. The catering staff were enthusiastic and took on the added work.

The staff group conducted a healthy eating survey and found that among second-year girls 41 per cent ate no breakfast on school days. In third year, 46 per cent of boys and 21 per cent of girls missed breakfast.

The weekend and holiday picture was altogether different: all second-year boys and girls had breakfast. One in 10 third-year girls missed a meal in the morning, but all fourth-year girls ate something. Lack of time in the mornings was a major factor. If parents don't have breakfast themselves, neither do children. In some cases, particularly among the girls, weight was a factor.

Pupils were consulted and a letter went out to all parents. Between 80 and 110 children turn up each morning for their bacon rolls, about 10 per cent of the roll. And the results?

"Referrals to the school nurse," Mr Holmes reports, "have dropped away to nothing."

The Breakfast Club has brought another bonus. "Though it was started as a dietary initiative," Mr Holmes adds, "a major social benefit has emerged. The club provides a warm and pleasant welcoming start to the day."

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