According to a new study published by Virginia Tech researchers, students who consistently participate in the federal school breakfast and lunch programs are 27 percent more likely to be overweight than their similarly situated peers. The study analyzed a nationally representative sample of 21,000 students who received government-funded meals at school from kindergarten through 8th grade – and researchers controlled for family income and other factors that may affect a student’s risk of obesity.
Students who received the government-funded meals were more at risk of obesity, according to Virginia Tech economics professor Wen You, who conducted the research. She also uncovered regional differences: students in the Northeast, South and rural America were most at risk for obesity linked to the school meals.
The study looked at school meals before the new federal nutritional standards were imposed by the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. Those standards were a step forward, according to Wu. But raising the standards isn’t enough, she says, given the recent pushback by some schools that are struggling to meet the standards. “We should not be leaving schools helpless to improve nutrition,” she said.