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Iowa State study finds health value to children of National School Lunch Program
Date:11/10/2011

study the impact of school lunch on children's nutritional health, the researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, conducted by the National Centers for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control -- a program of surveys designed to assess the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the United States through interviews and direct physical examinations. Their sample included 2,693 children between the ages of 6 and 17 who were reported to be attending schools with the NSLP and residing in households with income less than 185 percent of the federal poverty line.

Kreider says it's been well documented that children who qualify for free and reduced-price school lunches tend to have worse health than their fellow students.

"What is more difficult to identify is the causal role of the program itself when children are not randomly assigned into the NSLP," Kreider said. "Parents and teachers who know that particular children are not getting adequate nutrition at home may be self-selecting such children into the program. This can make it appear that the program is ineffective when it is really just the composition of high-risk beneficiaries."

Kreider and his colleagues' analysis developed new statistical methods capable of estimating causal "treatment effects" for government assistance programs when participation and eligibility are imperfectly measured. While their data came from 2001-04, Kreider says the basic structure of the NSLP and its participation rate haven't changed much in recent years, so the researchers expect their conclusions to be stable across time.

Among their findings, Kreider found the rate of obesity reduction to be the most surprising.

"We didn't expect to find such a large effect of the NSLP on reducing the obesity rate," Kreider said. "Theoretically, the impact of reduced-price lunches on obesity is ambiguous. Because NSLP administrators must adhere t
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Contact: Mike Ferlazzo
ferlazzo@iastate.edu
515-294-8986
Iowa State University
Source:Eurekalert

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