Do School Food Programs Improve Child Dietary Quality?

18 Pages Posted: 16 Apr 2020

Date Written: March 2017


This paper estimates the impact of U.S. school food programs on the distribution of child dietary quality during 2005−10. The distributional approach allows one to better understand how school food impacts children prone to low‐quality diets separately from those prone to higher‐quality diets. Using a fixed‐effects quantile estimator, I find notable heterogeneity in the general population—school food has positive impacts below the median of the dietary‐quality distribution, and negative but insignificant impacts at upper quantiles. Children demonstrating substantial nutritional needs (i.e., food insecure or receiving free/reduced price meals) exhibit positive impacts at all levels of diet quality with especially high benefits at low quantiles. Although school food programs may not benefit the “above‐average” child, they do improve the diets of the most nutritionally disadvantaged.

Keywords: National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, diet quality, fixed‐effect quantile estimation

Suggested Citation

Smith, Travis, Do School Food Programs Improve Child Dietary Quality? (March 2017). American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Vol. 99, Issue 2, pp. 339-356, 2017, Available at SSRN: or

Travis Smith (Contact Author)

University of Georgia ( email )

Athens, GA 30602-7509
United States

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