Description: Researchers will determine the link between students receiving nutritious school lunches and their academic performance.
Start: June 1, 2015
End: December 31, 2016
- Sponsor: IRP Ridge Center for National Food and Nutrition Assistance Research
- Principal Investigator: Joseph Price
When allocating funds, school administrators must determine the most direct way for those funds to improve student performance. School meals are not currently a high priority, in part because there is no research connecting student food intake and student performance. Dr. Joseph Price and his team of researchers are performing an in-depth data analysis from 8,500 schools that are implementing a new federal school lunch program from the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010. This was created to help improve nutrition and stop child hunger. Specifically, the Community Eligibility Provision is part of this act that provides funding for schools with a qualifying percentage of at-risk students. At-risk students include students using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid or Head Start Schools, as well as students that are homeless or in foster care. If 40% of students at a school qualify for free lunch, the entire student population will be provided free lunch. This provision also requires certain guidelines for each lunch including: requiring fruits or vegetables during lunch, limiting the number of calories and setting guidelines in regards to sugars, fats, proteins and sodium. The research team will analyze data from each participating school to determine if these changes to school lunch will influence student performance. This will include examining the students’ test scores throughout the course of the school lunch program, including a specific investigation of students who were not eating lunch before the beginning of the school lunch program. Additionally, researchers will use a digital program to track the school menu data, measuring the nutritional value of school lunches before and after the school lunch program. Using this data, the researchers can determine the extent of the impact of the nutritional content of the lunches on student performance.
Researchers predict that the project’s two main aspects of expanding lunch availability and improving the nutritional content of lunches will enhance academic performance. This study will provide insight to the degree to that nutrition and cognition work together. When more administrators see the direct results of better nutrition in students, they will be more willing to allocate more funding to school lunches.
An additional factor to consider is the removal of the stigma surrounding low-income students and free lunches. Because all students will be receiving free school lunch, low-income students will be less likely to be self-conscious and more likely to eat the lunches. Receiving a school lunch will also positively impact behavior in children.
With the increased amount of school lunches being produced, the average cost of lunches is expected to decrease. The remaining money saved from mass producing school lunches can be used towards further improving the nutritional value of these lunches. The schools with the most nutritious meals are predicted to have the highest levels of improvement.
At the conclusion of this study, school districts will be able to better decide whether to make the school meal program a priority in the district’s academic goals. Researchers hope that schools will choose to use funding to offer more students meals. It is possible that eligibility requirements of free lunches will lower so more students can participate and benefit.