Healthy School Meals and Educational Outcomes

Study Questions:

Do school meals impact educational outcomes?

Methods:

The effects of a policy change in meals among schools from Greenwich, England were evaluated. Meals were changed from low-budget processed meals to healthier options. The Feed Me Better Campaign developed by chef Jamie Oliver involved retraining of school cooks, removing all junk food, and replacing these foods with healthy alternatives, and removing processed foods. New school menus were initiated in the school year 2004-05. All menus stayed within the prior budget of the old menus. The outcomes of interest were educational outcomes in primary schools, comparing before and after changes, as well as comparing outcomes with those from a control group (the neighboring Local Education Authorities). Educational outcomes were compared using testing from Key Stage 2, which corresponds to grades 3 through 6. All pupils take standardized testing in year 6 (average age of the students is 11). Testing has three main components: English, math, and science. Absenteeism was also examined as an outcome.

Results:

Among schools in which the new menus were used, improvements in the number of students reaching level 5 or above increased in math (5%), English (6%), and science (8%). The number of students who reached level four increased for math and English (3%) and science (2%). Improvement in test scores was more pronounced among girls and among children from middle to high socioeconomic status. The number of authorized absences that were likely due to illness decreased by 14% in the schools with the new menus compared to the control group. No effect was observed for unauthorized absences.

Conclusions:

The authors concluded that healthier school meals may improve educational outcomes and reduce absenteeism.

Perspective:

This detailed analysis of a policy change in school lunches from one English borough suggests a positive impact related to healthy school meals in terms of educational outcomes. Evaluation of similar efforts in other communities and countries is warranted.

Clinical Topics: Congenital Heart Disease and Pediatric Cardiology

Keywords: Meals, Child, Students, Mathematics, Cardiology, Cardiovascular Diseases, School Health Services, Social Class, England, Food Services, Science


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