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School lunches have earned reputations as being unhealthy and unappealing to children and parents alike. However, through legislation and effort by schools, guidelines for healthier school lunches have become stricter. Eating healthier lunches can lead to higher grades, increased micronutrient consumption, better attendance and a lower obesity rate.
A 2004 study published in the "Journal of Health Economics" indicates that a campaign for healthier school meals in the United Kingdom lead to improved educational outcomes. When the school lunch campaign shifted meals from low-budget, processed food to healthier options, grades improved significantly in English and science.
Increased Vitamin and Mineral Consumption
Eating a healthy school lunch as part of the National School Lunch Program increases a child's consumption of six vitamins and minerals, according to a study published in 2003 in the вЂњAmerican Journal of Agricultural Economics.вЂќ Researchers found that eating school lunches boosted a student's intake of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin B-12 and riboflavin, as well as dietary fiber. These students also had a lower intake of added sugars. Additionally, a 2013 study published in "Applied Economics Perspectives and Policy" found that on an average school day, students who ate school lunch consumed more fruits and vegetables than those who did not.
The same study that found healthier lunches improve grades also determined that school absences fell by 14 percent. Along the same lines, a 2010 study published in the вЂњJournal of Policy Analysis and ManagementвЂќ found that serving free or reduced-cost lunches, which are required for schools to participate in NSLP, enticed low-income children to attend school more regularly than they would have if the program was not available.
States across the U.S. can enact their own legislation regarding school lunches, and stricter standards for healthier lunches can have an impact on a student's health. According to a 2013 study published in "JAMA Pediatrics," the states with tougher regulations -- meaning the schools exceeded the minimum USDA standards for nutrition -- had a lower prevalence of childhood obesity. In states that exceeded USDA standards, 21 percent of children were found to be obese, while states that met those standards had a 26 percent obesity rate in children eating school lunches.