Free School Lunch Improves Children’s Health

School NutritionA new study published in the Journal of Econometrics shows that free school lunch improves children’s health. Measured were rates of food insecurity, poor general health, and obesity.

The study concluded that food insecurity, which includes a range of “might miss a meal” to “eats nothing all day”, is reduced by 3.8% by participation in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). More significantly, poor general health is decreased by 29% among participants in the NSLP and obesity was reduced by 17%.

Previous published studies have indicated that obesity and poor general health are higher among free school lunch recipients than children with similar economic backgrounds who are not participating in the NSLP. The authors of the paper note that this could reflect differences in who chooses to participate in the school lunch program. In other words, parents and teachers are more likely to notice kids who are struggling with health problems related to nutrition and get them into the program.

“Parents and teachers who know that particular children are not getting adequate nutrition at home may be self-selecting such children into the program. This can make it appear that the program is ineffective when it is really just the composition of high-risk beneficiaries,” said Brent Kreider, professor of economics at Iowa State University and one of the authors of the study.

It’s good to know kids are receiving beneficial effects from participation in the NSLP.

Source: “The impact of the National School Lunch Program on child health: A nonparametric bounds analysis”, Craig Gundersen, Brent Kreider, John Pepper, Journal of Econometrics, Volume 166, Issue 1, January 2012, Pages 79-91, doi:10.1016/j.jeconom.2011.06.007

Image by Ben+Sam, used with Creative Commons license.

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