Free School Meals Linked to Modest Reduction in Childhood Obesity

Posted on March 18, 2024

Universal free school meals represent one potential approach to countering childhood obesity, according to a new study in the April 2024 edition of Pediatrics (published online March 18). Results from the study “Universal Free School Meals Policy and Childhood Obesity” show a modest net reduction in obesity prevalence was associated with schools that adopted the Community Eligibility Provision, a universal free school meals policy. This policy allows eligible, low-income schools to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students. Researchers calculated school obesity prevalence using body mass index (BMI) measurements collected annually between 2013-2019 from students in 3,531 California public schools in grades 5, 7, and 9. Schools that participated in the policy saw a 0.60 percentage point (2.4%) net decrease in obesity prevalence after implementation compared to eligible, non-participating schools. Increased school meal participation is believed to contribute to lower obesity rates in children since the school meals are often more nutritious than meals outside of school. Evidence also suggests that universal free school meal policies improve food insecurity and child academic performance. Read more