Elementary school students who eat school-provided lunches are more likely to be overweight than peers who brown-bag it every day, concludes a study published in the summer issue of the Journal of Human Resources.
Using data from a federal study that tracks 15,000 students from the time they enter kindergarten until late elementary school, researcher Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach finds that obesity rates at the start of kindergarten are roughly the same among the lunch-buyers and the brown-baggers. By the end of 1st grade, though, the students who buy lunch are 2.4 percent more likely to be obese than the comparison group.
Ms. Schanzenbach, a public policy professor at the University of Chicago, also compares two groups of students whose family incomes put them just above and below the eligibility cutoff for federally subsidized school lunches. She finds that students are more likely to be obese, and weigh more, if they qualify for reduced-price school lunches.
She says her results suggest a potential role for public policy to address childhood obesity by encouraging or potentially mandating changes in school lunches.
A version of this article appeared in the July 15, 2009 edition of Education Week