The Influence of School Nutrition Programs on the Weight of Low-Income Children: A Treatment Effect Analysis
Recent policy attempts to set high nutrition standards for the School Breakfast Program (SBP) and National School Lunch Program (NSLP) aim to improve children's health outcomes. A timely and policy-relevant task evaluates to what extent school meal programs contribute to child body mass index (BMI) outcomes to assess those school meal policies' potential impacts. This study examines children's weight progress from 1st through 8th grade, while recognizing the potential effects on those children participating in both programs compared with those children participating in only one program. We used difference-in-differences (DID) and average treatment effect on the treated (ATT) methodologies and focused on free- and reduced-price meal-eligible children to filter out income effects. The DID results show that short-term participation in only NSLP increases the probability that children will be overweight, and these results are more prominent in the South, Northeast, and rural areas. ATT results show that participation in both programs from 1st through 8th grade increases the probability that these students will be overweight. With the Community Eligibility Provision having taken effect across the nation in the 2014-2015 school year, the need to continue examining the impacts of these programs on child BMI is even greater.