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28 Jun 2010 - 08 Aug 2011
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It's Just Lunch: Kids’ Program Increases Education
The first study of the long-term health and educational effects of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), conducted by a Georgetown professor, has found that it leads to an increase in educational opportunity and attainment.

Peter Hinrichs, assistant professor at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, also discovered an insignificant increase in health levels in adults who participated in the NSLP as children.

Hinrichs’ article, “The Effects of the National School Lunch Program on Education and Health” appeared in the online edition of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management on June 3.

The Congress-led program, which began in 1946 under President Harry Truman, expanded the existing New Deal food subsidy programs started under President Franklin Roosevelt. The program was largely inspired by the disqualification of 16 percent of eligible soldiers from serving in World War II due to malnutrition or underfeeding. It originally was perceived as a “measure of national security.” Federal spending on the program is now measured at more than $8 billion per year.

“My research found that the National School Lunch Program has not had a dramatic effect on health into adulthood, but it has had a significant effect on educational attainment,” Hinrichs says. “School feeding programs, and the National School Lunch Program in particular, have some effect on adult health, but do not necessarily improve every outcome we hoped they would improve.”

The study uses data on educational attainment from the U.S. Census and asserts that the low-cost, subsidized lunches offered to children in the program may have encouraged children to attend school.

Hinrichs speculates that food from the NSLP may have just replaced food that children were going to consume from other sources, or that perhaps the program improves health temporarily but that the effects fade away by adulthood.

“The National School Lunch Program today is still broad in its reach, but it has some elements of being targeted toward poorer children,” Hinrichs says. “These include strict eligibility requirements for free and reduced-price lunch and special funding for poorer schools. Had these elements been in place at the inception of the program, the program may have had more of a detectable effect on health in its early years.”

He says the study’s results have implications for developing countries that are considering the introduction of similar large-scale child nutrition programs.

-- Rachel Pugh

(June 21, 2010)
'My research found that the National School Lunch Program has not had a dramatic effect on health into adulthood, but it has had a significant effect on educational attainment.' - Peter Hinrichs

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