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School meal quality and academic performance

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  • Anderson, Michael L.
  • Gallagher, Justin
  • Ramirez Ritchie, Elizabeth

Abstract

Improving the nutritional content of public school meals is a topic of intense policy interest. A main motivation is the health of school children, and, in particular, the rising childhood obesity rate. Medical and nutrition literature has long argued that a healthy diet can have a second important impact: improved cognitive function. In this paper, we test whether offering healthier meals affects student achievement as measured by test scores. Our sample includes all California (CA) public schools over a five-year period. We estimate difference-in-differences style regressions using variation that takes advantage of frequent meal-vendor contract turnover. Students at schools that contract with a healthy school-meal vendor score higher on CA state achievement tests. We do not find any evidence that healthier school meals lead to a decrease in obesity rates. The test score gains, while modest in magnitude, come at very low cost.

Suggested Citation

  • Anderson, Michael L. & Gallagher, Justin & Ramirez Ritchie, Elizabeth, 2018. "School meal quality and academic performance," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 168(C), pages 81-93.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:pubeco:v:168:y:2018:i:c:p:81-93
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jpubeco.2018.09.013
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    Cited by:

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    2. Kurtz, Michael D. & Conway, Karen Smith & Mohr, Robert D., 2020. "Weekend feeding (“BackPack”) programs and student outcomes," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 79(C).

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Nutrition;

    JEL classification:

    • I20 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - General
    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior

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