Choosing Less-Healthy Options in the School Lunch Line: New AAEA Member Research

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Study analyses healthy lunch items getting passed up for sweets

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"We noticed there was something unique going on with the a la carte items."

According to statistics from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. In 2011 and 2012, nearly 17 percent of children in the United States ages 6-11 were considered obese.

This is one reason the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) developed the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” in 2010 and required all meals offered by the federally-subsidized National School Lunch Program (NSLP) meet those guidelines.

The NSLP has helped provide school-age children with nutritious free-or-low-cost lunches for decades. But not everything in the lunch line these days would be considered “healthy”.

“Do Elementary Students Substitute Ice Cream and Baked Goods for Healthier National School Lunch Program Meal Items?”, by Gabrielle Miller, was recently selected to appear in the Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy. In the paper Miller and her co-authors observe choices made at a grade school when a la carte items are offered alongside NSLP meals.

How often are children grabbing a sweet treat instead of fruit even though they have to pay for it? Which students are more likely to select less-healthy options?

To see Miller’s paper and to schedule an interview with the author, please contact Jay Saunders in the AAEA Business Office.

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Jay Saunders
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