School Lunch After HHFKA: Selection, Nutrition, Health, and Achievement

Project: Research project

Project Details


The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010 was a dramatic reform of the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. In particular, it imposed strict new nutrition standards intended to improve the dietary intake of school meals participants. Prior work on the school lunch program prior to HHFKA using a variety of quasi-experimental methods generally found that school lunch participation increased children’s calorie intake, and their body weights, with no discernible impact on test scores or other measures of academic outcomes (Schanzenbach 2009; Tchernis 2010). A notable exception is Gunderson et al. (2011), which used a nonparametric bounds approach to rule out an increase in childhood obesity caused by school lunch participation. In this project, we will revisit the approach taken in Schanzenbach (2009) using the new wave of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey (ECLS-K 2011), which has released rich data on a panel of children at the beginning and end of kindergarten, and the end of first grade. The original project took two approaches to estimating the impact of school lunch. First, it estimated a regression discontinuity at the cutoff for reduced-price lunch. Second, it estimated growth over time among children who were ineligible for a school meals subsidy. Importantly, the latter approach was buoyed by the fact that there were no measurable differences in rates of overweight at kindergarten entry between children who would go on to participate in school lunch and those who would opt to bring their lunch from home. Initial results using regression analysis in the spirit of the earlier paper indicate that in the current wave of the ECLS-K, selection into the school lunch program is substantially different than it was in the original 2001 wave. In particular, among high-SES children, those who opt to participate in the program are heavier and kindergarten entry, and also score worse on baseline measures of skill. We intend to combine the analysis with information from the School Nutrition Dietary Assessment (SNDA) dataset collected at approximately the same time, to determine whether there are characteristics of schools that are available in both datasets that predict the nutritional offerings in the school lunch program, and if those explain selection into the school lunch program.
Effective start/end date7/1/1512/31/16


  • University of Wisconsin-Madison (613K782 // 59-5000-5-0013)
  • Department of Agriculture (613K782 // 59-5000-5-0013)


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