School Lunch Quality and Academic Performance
Providing children with nutritious school meals continues to be a topic of interest in education policy. It has been argued that a healthy diet can have a positive impact on childhood obesity as well as student achievement. However, there is little empirical evidence to support this popular intervention. A working paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research offers insights to help policy makers decide whether to select this option as a way to make a difference in children’s lives. The study, a natural experiment conducted in California public schools, uses a difference-in-difference regression statistical analysis of data from a treatment group and a control group at two or more different time periods, pre-treatment and post-treatment. The study found no evidence to support a reduction in obesity, but it did discover that introducing healthy meals was associated with a 0.036 standard deviation increase in test scores. The improved student achievement, although small, makes nutritious school lunches a viable cost-effective intervention that can boost test scores. It is important to remember that this is a correlational study and thus cannot establish a cause and effect relationship between healthy eating and student achievement.
Citation: Anderson, M. L., Gallagher, J., & Ritchie, E. R. (2017). School lunch quality and academic performance (NBER Working Paper No. 23218). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.