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School Lunch Quality and Academic Performance

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

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 lunches 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-difference style regressions using variation that takes advantage of frequent lunch vendor contract turnover. Students at schools that contract with a healthy school lunch vendor score higher on CA state achievement tests, with larger test score increases for students who are eligible for reduced price or free school lunches. We do not find any evidence that healthier school lunches lead to a decrease in obesity rates.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael L. Anderson & Justin Gallagher & Elizabeth Ramirez Ritchie, 2017. "School Lunch Quality and Academic Performance," NBER Working Papers 23218, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23218
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Alan B. Krueger, 1999. "Experimental Estimates of Education Production Functions," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(2), pages 497-532.
    2. Roland G. Fryer, 2011. "Financial Incentives and Student Achievement: Evidence from Randomized Trials," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 126(4), pages 1755-1798.
    3. Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach & Mary Zaki, 2014. "Expanding the School Breakfast Program: Impacts on Children's Consumption, Nutrition and Health," NBER Working Papers 20308, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Janet Currie & Stefano DellaVigna & Enrico Moretti & Vikram Pathania, 2010. "The Effect of Fast Food Restaurants on Obesity and Weight Gain," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 2(3), pages 32-63, August.
    5. Angrist, Joshua D & Lavy, Victor, 2001. "Does Teacher Training Affect Pupil Learning? Evidence from Matched Comparisons in Jerusalem Public Schools," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 19(2), pages 343-369, April.
    6. Scott A. Imberman & Adriana D. Kugler, 2014. "The Effect of Providing Breakfast in Class on Student Performance," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 33(3), pages 669-699, June.
    7. David M. Cutler & Edward L. Glaeser & Jesse M. Shapiro, 2003. "Why Have Americans Become More Obese?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 17(3), pages 93-118, Summer.
    8. Peter Hinrichs, 2010. "The effects of the National School Lunch Program on education and health," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 29(3), pages 479-505.
    9. Frisvold, David E., 2015. "Nutrition and cognitive achievement: An evaluation of the School Breakfast Program," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 124(C), pages 91-104.
    10. Justin Gallagher, 2014. "Learning about an Infrequent Event: Evidence from Flood Insurance Take-Up in the United States," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 6(3), pages 206-233, July.
    11. Figlio, David N. & Winicki, Joshua, 2005. "Food for thought: the effects of school accountability plans on school nutrition," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(2-3), pages 381-394, February.
    12. Roland G. Fryer, 2011. "Teacher Incentives and Student Achievement: Evidence from New York City Public Schools," NBER Working Papers 16850, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Glewwe, Paul & Miguel, Edward A., 2008. "The Impact of Child Health and Nutrition on Education in Less Developed Countries," Handbook of Development Economics, Elsevier.
    14. Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, 2009. "Do School Lunches Contribute to Childhood Obesity?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 44(3).
    15. Leos-Urbel, Jacob & Schwartz, Amy Ellen & Weinstein, Meryle & Corcoran, Sean, 2013. "Not just for poor kids: The impact of universal free school breakfast on meal participation and student outcomes," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 36(C), pages 88-107.
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    Cited by:

    1. Alex-Petersen, Jesper & Lundborg, Petter & Rooth, Dan-Olof, 2017. "Long-Term Effects of Childhood Nutrition: Evidence from a School Lunch Reform," IZA Discussion Papers 11234, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    2. Amy Ellen Schwartz & Michah W. Rothbart, 2017. "Let Them Eat Lunch: The Impact of Universal Free Meals on Student Performance," Center for Policy Research Working Papers 203, Center for Policy Research, Maxwell School, Syracuse University.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

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

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