Students participating in government-funded school meal programs at higher risk of being overweight
Government-funded school meals are putting financially vulnerable children at risk of being overweight, a Virginia Tech researcher has found. As millions of kids who eat government-funded breakfasts or lunches head back to school this fall, most of them will participate in meal programs that may be part of the cause of the nationwide obesity epidemic. Students from low-income families and those who live in the Northeast, South, and rural America are most susceptible to the problem. “While well-intentioned, these government funded school meal programs that are aimed at making kids healthy are in fact making participating students more at risk of being overweight,” said Wen You, associate professor of agricultural and applied economics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “This study identifies the hardest battles in crafting policy to alleviate children in low-income populations being overweight.” You’s findings were recently published in the journal Health Economics.
You found that those children who were most likely to be overweight came from families who participate in both the school breakfast and lunch programs consistently throughout their elementary and intermediate school years. These children consume one-third to one-half of their daily meals at school. The study examined data collected from 1998 to 2007. “We found that the longer children were in the programs, the higher their risk of being overweight. We also saw the most negative effect of the government-funded school meal programs in the South, the Northeast, and rural areas of the country,” You said. “The question now is what to do in order to not just fill bellies, but make sure those children consume healthy and nutritious food — or at least not contribute to the obesity epidemic.” The study also found in the South the most significant impact on child weight was in the fifth grade, and in the Northeast, in the eighth grade.
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