Estimating the Effects of Universal Free School Meal Enrollment on Child Health: Evidence from the Community Eligibility Provision in Georgia Schools
48 Pages Posted: 17 Apr 2018 Last revised: 17 Feb 2019
Date Written: February 13, 2019
We estimate the effect of providing universal free school meals through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) on the percentage of healthy weight students attending a school and average Body Mass Index (BMI) score among the population of K-12 schools in the state of Georgia. Different specifications of school CEP eligibility are used as instruments for CEP participation in our analysis. We find that CEP participation leads to an increase in the percentage of healthy weight students attending a school and a decrease in average student BMI. Furthermore, we find no statistically significant evidence to support a deleterious effect from CEP participation on our aggregate measures of child weight. Subsample analyses suggest that the effect of CEP participation varies by school grade and location type, with smaller overall effects for schools serving older students and schools in suburbs/towns. We also show that our results are generally robust to different modeling specifications and key variable assumptions. Overall, the beneficial aggregate weight effects caused by CEP participation indicate that providing universal free meals in low-income schools may be a valuable tool in the fight against increasing rates of childhood overweight and obesity.
Keywords: Child health, Obesity, School meals, Community Eligibility Provision
JEL Classification: I38, I14, H75
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation