National School Lunch Program
This research document is to provide information about the National
School Lunch Program (“NSLP”). This program has been around for over 60
years, and while it originally provided a solution to combat hunger, people
now believe it is the cause of obesity in many children. Does the program
still fulfill its function? Is it the program causing obesity, or are there other
factors to take in consideration?
The Federal government supports the NSLP (1). The purpose of the
NSLP is to help kids to have a greater potential learning achievement. The
NSLP is provided to public, nonprofit schools, and residential child care
institutions. Eligibility for the NSLP changes by household. The annual wage
salary per family is taken into consideration when determining one’s
eligibility to participate in the NSLP.
The NSLP must meet nutritional guidelines according to United States
Department of Agriculture (USDA) (2). The school lunches are designed to
provide a balanced meal, consisting of protein, grains, fruit, vegetables, and
low fat milk. According to studies, hungry children cannot learn; they are
tired, irritable, and have shorter attention spans (3).
Inappropriate nutrition affects the entire body, including mood and behavior,
and kids who do not have an appropriate intake of energy are likely to suffer
from behavioral problems, such as aggression and anxiety. Children who
eat a healthy breakfast and lunch are more likely experience higher
academic achievement than those who do not (4).
According to a study done by Iowa State University, the results
confirmed that school lunches improve health outcomes for children of lowincome families (4). Many low-income children do not have enough access
to food throughout the day; affecting their ability for academic achievement.
The study selected children, ages 6-17, to see if the kids would benefit from
the NSLP. The results indicated that children, who have better access to
food throughout the day, have a stronger potential to perform better and
more consistent attendance at school. This study, based on its results,
emphasizes that a good lunch is essential for academic success.
The research by Iowa State University emphasizes that children
enrolled in the NSLP, are likely to be obese; but is not because of the food
provided by the NSLP (4). It is more likely that the children come from
lower-income households where obesity is the problem.
Research performed in 2005 by California Health Interview inspected
the association between dietary behaviors.
Children enrolled in the NSLP were analyzed, and the study indicated that
those children were more likely to eat healthier then some kids who brought
lunch from home. (4,5). However, children who brought lunch from home
were less likely to eat fast food, and their intake of fruit and vegetables was
greater. Students who brought their lunch to school consumed 0.35% less
fast food, 0.35% less soda, 0.25% less of high-sugar foods, and 0.95%
more servings of fruit and vegetables per day, when compared to students
who never brought their lunch to school. The results from California Health
Interview concluded that students who bring lunches from home have better
overall eating behavior than adolescents who get their lunches from other
According to a research by Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, their
data concludes that girls who participated in the NSLP gained a lot of weight;
just as much as girls from low-income households who do not get the
subsidized lunches at school (6,7). According to the data from the study,
about 36% of kids, ages 6 to 11, are overweight and 20% are considered
Excess body weight in children can likely lead to health problems,
such as an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, earlier onset puberty
and cancer (7). Studies have found that kids who are part of the NSLP get
more protein, vitamins, and minerals in their diets (8).
However, studies have also found that these kids also consume more dietary
fat and more calories overall. In addition, some studies have found that kids
in the NSLP tend to be overweight or obese.
A study from Penn State University focused on the Body Mass Index
(BMI) of kids in the NSLP, and children who are not on the NSLP (6). For
the study, 574 girls and 566 boys were selected across the country to enroll
in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study as kindergarteners in 1998. The
researchers took children ages 5 to 14 years of age into consideration for
this study. Their weights and heights were taken for assessing body mass
index. The results of the study indicated that the average BMI for lowincome girls was the same as it was for the girls in the NSLP. They also
noticed that the girls in the NSLP program gained weight fast, as soon as
they began the NSLP. However, neither BMI nor weight appeared to affect
boys in the NSLP (7). One fact that was taken into consideration was that
the study done by Penn State University was done in a low-income school.
So, even when the kids were not in the NSLP, they came from low-income
households. These families tended to eat unhealthy fast foods and not
School lunches have been criticized for a long time, and USDA is
imposing new standards to encourage children to eat more fruits and
Many schools are regulating what can be sold at school; also known as
“competitive foods” (8,9) Younger children, and adolescents, tend to buy
lots of the competitive foods; which are extremely low in nutritional value
and high in calories. The USDA is providing what it calls a “national
baseline” for snacks in schools under the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of
2010, to combat childhood obesity. Also, the USDA is encouraging schools
to join what is called the Healthier U.S. School Challenge (10). This program
recognizes schools that are changing the nutritional quality of their school
meals. This program builds on the USDA’s guidelines to improve the quality
of meals provided at school. The Healthier U.S. School Program is not only
encouraging quality meals and beverages for the students, but it also highly
encourages physical activity for the students.
Based on the information about the NSLP, it appears that it fulfill its
purpose. Children of low-income families appear to be benefit from the
NSLP. Studies show that kids who do not have enough food through the day
cannot perform as well at school, and they can also develop behavioral
issues. A couple studies emphasize that the NSLP is not the problem
causing obesity. Obesity more likely stems from the families who tend to
have unhealthy eating habits at home and lack physical activity. Also, the
competitive foods have a lot to do with overweight and obese children.
While the NSLP must follow a nutritional guideline, and appears to provide
protein, fruit and vegetables, these foods also generally have more fat and
calories. The Healthier U.S. Challenge is helping to achieve better meals at
school, and is also emphasizing physical activity; since, after all, obesity
results from poor nutrition and inactivity. The study from California Health
Interview implies that healthy choices start at home. The study emphasizes
that children that bring lunch from home have healthier eating behaviors
overall. This study concludes that these children are being taught and
expose to healthier choices at home. Many aspects have to be taken into
consideration such as gender, age, environment, demographics, culture,
religion, and physical activity in order to develop a sound conclusion since, in
many case studies, a lot of these factors are left out. In the end, everything
has an impact on children’s health and behavior. The schools and parents
are responsible for the health of the children, and they must work together
to improve childrens’ health and improve the NSLP. The NSLP is working on
improving its services, but parental engagement is also required to help the
NSLP evolve and provide better fresh, healthy, meals for the children.
1. Food Research and Action Center. National School Lunch. Accessed
April 22, 2013.
2. United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Center. National School
Lunch. Accessed April 22, 2013.
3. U.S. National School Lunch Program Improves Health of Children in Low-Income
Households, Study Suggests. Science Daily. 2011. Accessed April 24, 2013.
4. National School Lunch Program Increases Educational Achievement, Study Finds.
Science Daily. 2010. Accessed April 24,
5. Snelling AM, Korba C, Burkey A. The National School Lunch and competitive food
offerings and purchasing behaviors of high school students. (Research Article)(Report).
Highbeam Research. 2007.
Accessed April 26, 2013.
6. The National School Lunch Program. Mendeley. 1969. Accesed April
26, 2013.
7. Hernandez DC, Francis LA, Doyle EA. National School Lunch Program Participation
and Sex Differences in Body Mass Index Trajectories of Children From Low-Income
Families. Jama Pediatrics. 2011. Accessed April 26,
8. My Fox Orlando. Junk Food Laws in Schools may Mean Healthier Kids. Accessed April 26, 2013.
9. Rainville A, Choi K, Brown D. Healthy School Nutrition Environments: Views of
School Foodservice Personnel Compared to Other School Personnel. The journal of child
nutrition and Management. 2005. Accessed April
26, 2013.
10. Healthier US Challenge. United States Department of Agriculture Food and
Nutrition Center. 2012. Accesed
April 19, 2013.