At a Glance
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service
Project Time Frame:
School Meal Participation and Children's Food Consumption Patterns
Understanding the role of school meal program participation on children’s food consumption patterns and risk of obesity is critical to improving the weight status of America’s children. The most complete and up-to-date data to address these issues are from the nationally representative data Mathematica collected in the 2005 third School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study (SNDA-III). The data were used to address two key research questions:
(1) Does participation in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) or School Breakfast Program (SBP) affect children’s body mass index (BMI)?
We determined the effects of participation in school meal programs on key factors related to childhood obesity including dietary behaviors—consumption of beverages, low-nutrient energy-dense foods, fruits, and vegetables—weight status, and BMI. In terms of specific patterns, the research team found the following:
There was no evidence that participation in the school lunch program was significantly associated with students’ BMI. However, participation in the school breakfast program was associated with lower BMI levels. In other words, children who regularly ate school breakfasts had a lower mean BMI than students who rarely or never ate school breakfasts. One explanation for this relationship between SBP participation and lower BMI is that regular breakfast program participants are more likely to eat breakfast than are nonparticipants, and breakfast consumption is associated with lower weight.
"School Meal Program Participation and Its Association with Dietary Patterns and Childhood Obesity" (July 2009)