School Lunch Quality and Academic Performance, by Michael L. Anderson, Justin Gallagher, Elizabeth Ramirez Ritchie
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.