April 20, 2021
The Health and Education Impacts of the Federal School Meal Programs
A decade ago, Congress reformed the nutritional standards of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP) after evidence showed that school meals were contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic. In a new insight, AAF’s Director of Human Welfare Policy Tara O’Neill Hayes and Madeline VanHorn review the health and education impacts of these new nutritional standards and consider the barriers to participation in either program.
Their central points:
- Following implementation of the new nutritional standards, evidence indicates these programs—particularly the SBP—may improve nutritional intake and reduce food insecurity and obesity, especially among low-income children;
- There is stronger evidence that these programs improve educational performance, with increased participation improving test scores by as much as 40 percent among poor students; and
- As the strongest evidence for positive effects on both health and education stem from the SBP, which has a participation rate roughly half that of the NSLP, efforts to improve SBP participation may yield additional gains.