Impact of the National School Lunch Program on Children's Food Security



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The U.S. is the world's largest economy, accounting for about 20% of world Gross Domestic Product (GDP). With a high income and a mature welfare system, households in the U.S. should have enough food and healthy diets, especially for children. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that 9.8% of households with children were considered food insecure in 2010. The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is the second largest federally assisted food program and aims to provide nutritious, well-balanced lunches for school-age children. This thesis examined the association between NSLP participation and children's food security, using the third School Nutrition Dietary Assessment study (SNDA-III). An 18-item household module was used to measure the food security status of children. An ordered probit model was estimated using a two-stage instrumental variable approach in order to address the endogeneity of program participation.

We found that students with enough time to eat lunch were 12% more likely to participate in NSLP. Student participation in NSLP was also influenced by the receipt of free/reduced priced meals, being elementary or middle school age, residing in rural area, parents' having a lower education level and living in a single parent household with one employed parent or in two-parent household with both parents employed.

The second stage of the model indicates that receipt of free/reduce price meals, household structure and employment, school level, race, and education have significant effects on food security status. Moreover, we found that children from marginally food-secure households have characteristics similar to those from food insecure households rather than highly food-secure households. After controlling for the endogeneity of program participation, we could not find evidence to support program participation having a significant effect on children's food security. To confirm our findings we used adult and child food security modules as alternative food security measures. A bivariate probit model was estimated as an alternative model, but there was still no significant association between NSLP and food security status. A possible reason that NSLP has no effect on food security was that participating children did not intake significantly more calories from school lunch.