The effects of the National School Lunch Program on education and health



This paper estimates the effects of participating in the National School Lunch Program in the middle of the 20th century on adult health outcomes and educational attainment. I utilize an instrumental variables strategy that exploits a change in the formula used by the federal government to allocate funding to the states. Identification is achieved by the fact that different birth cohorts were exposed to different degrees to the original formula and the new formula, along with the fact that the change of the formula affected states differentially by per capita income. Participation in the program as a child appears to have few long-run effects on health, but the effects on educational attainment are sizable. These results may suggest that subsidized lunches induced children to attend school but displaced food consumption from other sources. Alternatively, the program may have had short-run health effects that dissipated over time but that facilitated higher educational attainment. © 2010 by the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management.